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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

A Pantry or Kitchen Interior

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG1520: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Pantry or Kitchen Interior, 1795–96, graphite on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 29.2 × 19.6 cm, 11 ½ × 7 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Pantry or Kitchen Interior
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
29.2 × 19.6 cm, 11 ½ × 7 ¾ in

‘Thos Girtin’ lower right, by (?) Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Sotheby’s, 13 July 1989, lot 18 as 'A Pantry', unsold; Christie’s, South Kensington, 28 March 2002, lot 67 as 'A kitchen interior', £1,880

About this Work

The Interior of the Blackmoor Head, near Rhuddlan, North Wales

When this uncharacteristic interior scene last appeared at auction in 2002, it was suggested that it might be a study for a view of Stokesay Castle (see figure 1) that was formerly in the collection of Tom Girtin (1913–94). The pencil drawing, which was catalogued by Susan Morris as Stokesay Castle: Interior of a Raftered Hall and dated to around 1800, turns out not to be by Girtin, however, and neither does it depict Stokesay in Shropshire (Morris, 1986, p.45). A small oil by John Varley (1778–1842), The Interior of the Blackmoor Head, near Rhuddlan (see figure 2), illustrates the same scene, and, indeed, it is almost certainly based on the pencil sketch (at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), so closely does it follow each of the meticulously recorded details of the inn scene in North Wales. The question then is should this pantry scene also be attributed to Varley? Sadly, I missed the work when it last appeared in public and I only know it from this digital image, but the signature certainly looks to be genuine, and there is arguably just enough variation in the touch to suggest that the drawing might be by Girtin. It is certainly true that the artist’s use of line is uncharacteristically sharp, perhaps suggesting an early date. However, with no comparable subject against which to judge the drawing, the attribution to Girtin cannot finally be confirmed with any degree of certainty.

The Interior of the Blackmoor Head, near Rhuddlan

The question of the attribution would no doubt be considerably eased if we knew something about the circumstances of the work’s production, and specifically why it was, just in this case, that Girtin chose to sketch in some detail a humble domestic interior that might normally be of interest only to a genre painter. Examining the range of kitchen scenes produced at this time by artists such as Francis Wheatley (1747–1801) and William Redmore Bigg (1755–1828), one is struck by how much more detail is included in this pencil sketch, so that if the drawing is by Girtin then it appears not to have been copied from another source and, following on from this, there is therefore a chance that it was sketched from life. This, in turn, raises another issue, because one of the common tropes of the early biographical accounts of Girtin is that, as a man of the people, he favoured the kitchen over the fashionable salon. William Henry Pyne (1770–1843), for instance, claimed that ‘in search of the picturesque, he sought the kitchen of the inn for refreshment, where he might enjoy himself without sacrificing his love for independence, and store up scenes and characters suited to his purpose’ (Pyne, 1832a, p.315). Presumably, it was sketches such as this that helped to fuel such accounts, and it may be that there are other examples that have remained undiscovered because of their uncharacteristic subject matter. A word of caution, though, because it might also have been the case that such an account of Girtin’s life encouraged someone to add an inscription to an unsigned kitchen interior, though, as I have noted, this example does look authentic.

by Greg Smith

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