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Works John Sell Cotman

A House Seen across Water, Known as ‘The Mill-Pond’

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1434: John Sell Cotman (1782–1842), A House Seen across Water, Known as 'The Mill-Pond', (?) 1800, watercolour on paper, 17.8 × 26 cm, 7 × 10 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (All Rights Reserved)

John Sell Cotman (1782-1842)
  • A House Seen across Water, Known as ‘The Mill-Pond’
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Watercolour on paper
17.8 × 26 cm, 7 × 10 ¼ in
Object Type
Formerly attributed to Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
216 as '"The Mill-Pond"' by Thomas Girtin; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Girtin Archive Photograph


Isaac Horrop; Christie’s, 28 May 1926, lot 8 as 'A River Scene'; R. F. Goldschmidt; Christie’s, 26 June 1941, lot 39 as 'Yorkshire Dale'; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £21; Winifred M. Church; her sale, Sotheby's, 4 May 1949, lot 3 as 'The Millpond'; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £130 (stock no.5898); Sir John Stuart Agnew, 3rd Baronet (1879–1957) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954)

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1942, no.57, £55; Agnew’s, 1943, no.74, £47 5s; Agnew’s, 1950, no.91, £150; Agnew’s, 1952, no.57; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.85 as by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This view of a house seen across a small lake is known only from a poor-quality black and white photograph, but even from this it is possible to challenge the title under which it has hitherto appeared: The Mill-Pond. The building is far too substantial to be a mill and the body of water appears to be ornamental; moreover, there is no obvious way in which the water might be harnessed to provide the power source for a mill. Furthermore, even though the work was confidently attributed to the artist by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak, who must have seen it on one of its many appearances at Agnew’s in the early 1950s, there are serious questions about its status as an autograph work by Girtin (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.162). The composition may resemble the view Kingswear, from Dartmouth (TG1265), but the even application of small patches of watercolour across the work does not seem right, and I am more reminded of the early work of John Sell Cotman (1782–1842), particularly in the foreground. It is hardly fair to question the attribution on the basis of a seventy-year-old photograph, but until the work reappears in public that is all we have to go on.

I am very grateful to Jeremy Yates for the suggestion that this watercolour is indeed by Cotman and that it is based on a pencil drawing, dated 2 July 1800, that shows the village of Tintern (Norwich Castle Museum (1951.235.621.B2)).  A new version of this entry will appear in the September update of the site.

1797 - 1798

Kingswear, from Dartmouth


by Greg Smith

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