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Works Thomas Girtin

A Lake Scene with Two Herons, Possibly in Cassiobury Park

1798 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1570: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Lake Scene with Two Herons, Possibly in Cassiobury Park, 1798–1800, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 26.2 × 30.9 cm, 10 ¼ × 12 ⅛ in. Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (1953P229).

Photo courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Lake Scene with Two Herons, Possibly in Cassiobury Park
1798 - 1800
Medium and Support
Watercolour on wove paper
26.2 × 30.9 cm, 10 ¼ × 12 ⅛ in

‘no 17’ on the back

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Hertfordshire; Lake Scenery; The Landscape Park

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
418 as 'Lake with Herons ... Possibly at Cassiobury Park'; '1800-1'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and April 2024


George Capel-Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex (1757–1839); given to Richard Ford (1796–1858), 1824; then by descent; Sotheby's, 19 October 1949, lot 90; bought by P & D Colnaghi & Co., £170; James Leslie Wright (1862–1954); presented to the Museum, 1953

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1953a, no.43 as ’A lake with Herons’; Worthing, 1960, no.65; Lyons, 1966, no.61; Bourges, 1970, no.55


Davies, 1924, p.26, pl.16 as 'Lake with Herons (probably at Cassiobury)'; Rose, 1980, p.57

About this Work

This extremely faded watercolour of a lake scene came from the collection of Girtin’s important late patron George Capel-Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex (1757–1839), and consequently it has been suggested that it shows a view on his estate at Cassiobury in Hertfordshire. This is entirely plausible, but, given that the drawing neither is inscribed with a title nor contains any distinctive topographical features, the location cannot be confirmed. The drawing’s uncharacteristic square format, combined with the unique focus on a wildlife subject, also makes it difficult to place in the context of Girtin’s career. The heron amongst the reeds to the left is just about satisfactory, but the bird in flight does the work no favours, and the artist does not appear to have made any effort to study the effect, making it look as though the poor animal has just been shot. The difference between this substandard effort and the lovingly detailed ornithological drawings of Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) is particularly striking (Lyles, 1988, pp.36–37). Clearly, ornithology was not amongst Girtin’s interests, and I am loathe to be too judgemental on the basis of what is one of the most extreme cases of fading in any of the artist’s watercolours (though not as excessively warm in tone as the poor quality image above renders it), where the vegetation, water and sky have all suffered equally, and I would not go as far as Paul Oppé (1878–1957), who questioned the attribution (Girtin Archive, 27). 

Although the Earl of Essex was identified in early biographies as one of Girtin’s most important patrons, it has been surprisingly difficult to pin down precisely which works were originally in his collection; indeed, this is the only watercolour that can definitely be shown to have come from Cassiobury Park. None of the six watercolours by Girtin that Essex lent to an exhibition at the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1823 can be identified, for instance, and there must have been other important works that did not pass to his heir, Richard Ford (1796–1858), and that left his collection in an as yet unidentified manner (Exhibitions: SPWC, 1823).

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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