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Works Thomas Girtin after Thomas Hearne

A Riverside Cottage, Said to Be a Watermill

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG1435: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), A Riverside Cottage, Said to Be a Watermill, 1795–96, graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and scratching out on wove paper, 22 × 31 cm, 8 ⅝ × 12 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: William Ellis (1756–1810) and William Woollett (1735–85), after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), etching, 'The Vicar of Wakefield': Mr Burchell Rescuing Sophia from the Mill-Stream, 13 March 1780, 35.3 × 37.7 cm, 13 ⅞ × 14 ¹³⁄₁₆ in. British Museum, London (1868,0808.3104).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Thomas Hearne (1744-1817)
  • A Riverside Cottage, Said to Be a Watermill
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and scratching out on wove paper
22 × 31 cm, 8 ⅝ × 12 ¼ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in March 2022


G. N. Whiddett; his sale, Sotheby’s, 27 November 1975, lot 6, £160; Gerard and Anne O'Farrell; Martyn Gregory Ltd, 2016-22; his sale, Christie’s, 10–24 March 2022, lot 141, £11,970

Exhibition History

Martyn Gregory, London, 2016, no.39

About this Work

The reappearance of this watercolour on the art market in March 2022 has confirmed its status as a first-rate early example of Girtin’s depiction of a picturesque vernacular building. The drawing appears to date from around 1794–95 and is in excellent condition, bright in tone and essentially unchanged since it was painted. The work has hitherto been titled ‘A Watermill’, though this is problematic on a number of counts. The wheel to the left of the building, which no doubt suggested the title, may rest in a stream, but the placid waters clearly have no propulsive power and the building lacks the attendant structure needed to make it into a viable working mill. In comparison with the watermills seen in later watercolours by Girtin (such as TG1427), the wheel has no more than a decorative role, and the location of the building on a meandering river leading to what appears to be an estuary is similarly unconvincing. The scene appears to be an imaginary one, therefore, and the cottage, cattle, distant church spire and mill wheel itself are all stock elements of the picturesque that have been united without any regard for the logic of a working landscape. All of this begs the question that if the view was not the outcome of one of Girtin’s early campaigns of sketching in the field, could it be that the young artist once again based his drawing on the work of another?

With this in mind, I began to look through the work of the artist who most influenced Girtin’s depiction of vernacular buildings, Thomas Hearne (1744–1817). I was not able to find the precise model used by Girtin, but it quickly became clear that the building and the trees are the same as those seen in an engraving after Hearne’s illustration to Oliver Goldsmith’s (1728–74) The Vicar of Wakefield (see source image TG1435). The scene, which shows Mr Burchell rescuing Sophia from the raging mill-stream, illustrates why it was that Girtin’s adaptation of Hearne’s motif proved so unconvincing: it needs the forceful torrent shown by the older artist to make the building look like a functioning mill. However, rather than adapting the engraving, it is possible that Girtin based his work on a sketch by Hearne, of which there were any number of examples in the collection of their mutual patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Indeed, it is not out of the question that this drawing was one of the nine ‘Views, after Hearne’ that were sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 July 1833, lots 109 and 113).

1798 - 1799

An Overshot Mill


1795 - 1796

A Riverside Cottage, Said to Be a Watermill


by Greg Smith

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