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Works Thomas Girtin

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1322: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Mountain View, near Beddgelert, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour and stopping out on laid paper, 61 × 91.5 cm, 24 × 36 in. National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (NMW A 22730).

Photo courtesy of National Museum Wales (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • A Mountain View, near Beddgelert
Date
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and stopping out on laid paper
Dimensions
61 × 91.5 cm, 24 × 36 in
Inscription

‘Girtin’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Exhibition Watercolour; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; North Wales

Collection
Versions
A Mountain View, near Beddgelert (TG1321)
Catalogue Number
TG1322
Girtin & Loshak Number
266ii as 'Near Beddgelert'; '1799, probably retouched 1801.'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and June 2018

Provenance

Edward Lascelles (1764–1814); then by descent to Henry Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824–92); his sale, Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 21 as 'A GRAND VIEW OF SNOWDON'; bought by 'Bale', 45 gns; Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880) (lent to London, 1875); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 13 May 1881, lot 83 as 'A Grand Mountainous Landscape'; bought by Sir Henry Doulton (1820–97), £136 10s; then by descent to Lewis John Eric Hooper (1879–1955); his posthumous sale, Chiddingfold, Surrey, 7 March 1956, lot 453; Fine Art Society, London; Christopher Dawnay; Thos. Agnew & Sons; bought from them by the Museum, 2001, £300,000

Exhibition History

Royal Academy, London, 1799, no.347 as ’Beth Kellert, North Wales’, or no.381 as ’Bethkellert, North Wales’ (London Packet, 8 – 10 May 1799Lloyds Evening Post, 10 – 13 May 1799 (repeated in True Briton, 10 May 1799; The Sun, 17 May 1799)); London, 1875, no.4 as ’Snowdon Range’; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.3; Fine Art Society, 1956, no.34; Manchester, 1975, no.41; London, 2002, no.116; Bath, 2003, no.28; London, 2014, no.13; American Tour, 2014–15, no.10; London, 2018, no number

Bibliography

Pyne, 1813, p.92; Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.122; Johnson, 1932, p.146; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.79–80; Wilton and Lyles, 1993, pp.133–34; Hill, 1999, p.22, p.24; NACF, Review, 2001, p.102; Smith, 2002a, pp.140–41; Bower, 2002, p.139; Country Life, vol.197, no.9 (27 February 2003), p.125; Solkin, 2015, pp.263–65; Hallett and Turner, 2018, pp.65–66; Bishop, 2018–19, p.93

About this Work

This dramatic watercolour showing a mountain view near Beddgelert is based on a large on-the-spot watercolour sketch made by Girtin on his trip to North Wales in the summer of 1798 (TG1321). The work’s first owner was one of Girtin’s most important patrons, Edward Lascelles (1764–1814), who also bought the similarly impressive view The Ogwen Falls (TG1330). A payment to Girtin of thirty-two guineas on 15 July 1799 presumably covered the price of both works and, given that the artist went to so much trouble to produce a large scale on-the-spot colour study of the scene, it is likely that he travelled to North Wales with a commission from Lascelles already in hand (Hill, 1999, p.22).1 Both works would have been attached to a stretcher, like a painting on canvas. In their original frames, which would not have included the cream mount favoured today, they would have been hung as part of a rich decorative ensemble. An inventory dating from 1814 thus lists the work as ‘A Mountainous Scene’ and records that it hung in the ‘Large Drawing Room’ at Lascelles’ London home in Hanover Square (Hill, 1995, p.57). Lascelles is not known to have had a particular interest in Welsh scenery and it may be that he chose the subjects to suit Girtin’s distinctive style, since he particularly appreciated the breadth and simplicity of the artist’s work, in contrast to that of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), whom he thought ‘finishes too much’ (Farington, Diary, 9 February 1799). 

Peter Mazell (c.1733–1808), after Moses Griffith (1747–1819), engraving, 'Dinas Emrys' for Thomas Pennant, <i>A Tour in Wales</i>, vol.2, pl.9, p.183, 12.2 × 19 cm, 4 ⅞ × 7 ½ in. British Library, London (187.a.16).

The watercolour has gone under a number of different titles since it appeared at the 1799 exhibition of the Royal Academy as ‘Bethkellert, North Wales’ (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1799, no.347 or 381), including an equally misleading ‘A Grand View of Snowdon’ when it was sold from the Lascelles family collection in 1858 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 21). In fact, the view depicted by Girtin is from the valley of the river Glaslyn about a kilometre east of the village of Beddgelert, from which point Snowdon is out of sight to the left, whilst the round form of Dinas Emrys stands proudly at the centre of the scene. The same hill appears in a print that illustrates Thomas Pennant’s (1726–98) popular Tour in Wales, and with its iron age hill-fort it was known as the home of Merlin (see figure 1) (Pennant, 1784). Such associations appear to have held no interest for Girtin, who, in both the sketch and here in the studio watercolour, concentrates on the way that a turbulent, broken sky has lit up the two hills in the middle ground, leaving the distance a storm-threatened blue. Closer to, the artist has realised the ‘fine contrast’, noted by one traveller, between the ‘rude and dark sides’ of the mountains and ‘the meadows of the vale below’, where the only signs of occupation are dwarfed by the immensity of the scene (Bingley, 1800, vol.1, p.359). 

Not surprisingly, Girtin’s monumental view made a great impact when it was exhibited in 1799, both with visitors and the critics. The unusually large number of reviews were unanimous in their praise, claiming that Girtin’s ‘much admired’ and ‘exquisitely fine’ works, and this watercolour in particular, had added considerably to his ‘professional reputation’ as one of the ‘most promising talents in this line of the Arts’ (Morning Herald, 1 May 1799; London Chronicle, 4 – 7 May 1799).2 It was Girtin’s success in capturing a natural effect and adding something extra that impressed the critics. ‘Nature’ in Beddgelert had ‘been contemplated with an eye of taste, and her beauties [were] pourtrayed by the hand of a master’, claimed one critic, whilst another anonymous writer detected ‘all the bold features of genius’ in a ‘highly romantic’ scene (London Packet, 8 – 10 May 1799; Lloyds Evening Post, 10 – 13 May 1799). Unlike the view of Rievaulx Abbey shown in the previous year’s exhibition (TG1056), which had been criticised for ‘neglect and carelessness’, here was a watercolour where the handling and ‘the objects introduced’ were perfectly ‘in unison with the character of the piece’ (Whitehall Evening Post, 31 May – 2 June 1798; Lloyds Evening Post, 10 – 13 May 1799). The unanimous view was that this work, which combined the simple grandeur of the mountains with a dramatic sky and a startlingly empty foreground, all on the monumental scale of two feet by three, had resulted in a coherent image of nature at its most sublime. 

This was certainly the view of the first historian of the British School of watercolours, William Henry Pyne (1770–1843), who claimed that the work was ‘admired’ for its ‘boldness and spirit’ and that it was seen as conclusive evidence of the artist’s ‘original merit’ and ‘genius’. Indeed, for Pyne, the appearance of ‘Beth Gellert’ at the 1799 exhibition, together with Turner’s Caernarfon Castle shown nearby (see TG1738 figure 1), marked a critical stage in the ‘progress’ of ‘painting in water colours’, the point when the full potential of the medium to rival the effects of oil paintings first became apparent (Pyne, 1813, p.82).3 More recently, historians may have been critical of the simplicities of the progressive argument, but the significance of Girtin’s 1799 exhibit, together with Turner’s contrasting triumph, continues to be recognised (Smith, 2002a, pp.140–41). For example, a recent history of the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition reunited the two watercolours (Hallett and Turner, 2018, pp.65–66), whilst David Solkin in his Art in Britain 1660–1815 used the works in a discussion of the role of Turner and Girtin in precipitating the transformation of the topographical subject into a vehicle with the capacity to embody a rich set of associations (Solkin, 2015, pp.263–65). 

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid drawing cartridge paper made by an unknown Dutch manufacturer, possibly Adriaan Rogge (1732–1816). This was worked on the artist’s favoured wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture (Bower, 2002, p.139). Girtin used the same Dutch cartridge paper for A View on the River Wharfe (TG1674) and Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning (TG1636). The work is also notable for the artist’s use of a technique known as stopping-out, which he also employed in a number of the larger Welsh views produced in 1799. Girtin appears to have been responding to the publication in the same year by Francis Nicholson (1753–1844) of his method of using a wax-based resist in the painting of watercolours. This, he suggested, could be brushed in, washed over and then removed by gently heating to leave negative areas as highlights (Nicholson, 1799b, pp.295–300). In this case, Girtin used the technique to depict the streams and the sheep that enliven the hill to the right.

(?) 1798

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert

TG1321

1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls

TG1330

(?) 1798

Rievaulx Abbey

TG1056

1800 - 1801

A View on the River Wharfe

TG1674

1800 - 1801

Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning

TG1636

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  1. 1 A payment of ‘£17.17.0’ to ‘Mr Girtin for Drawings, Lessons etc.’ on 21 November 1798 is a less likely alternative (Hill, 1995, p.29).
  2. 2 The reviews are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1799 – Items 1–3).
  3. 3 The anonymous article, almost certainly Pyne's work, is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1813 – Item 1).

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