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Works Thomas Girtin after John Cleveley the Younger

A Section of the 'Boiling Fountains' (Geysers) and the Surrounding Country, Iceland

(?) 1790

Artist's source: John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86), Section of the Boiling Fountains and Country near Them, Iceland, watercolour and pen and ink on paper, 15.4 × 45.5 cm, 6 ¼ × 17 ⅞ in. British Library, London (Add Ms 15511, f.34).

Photo courtesy of The British Library Board (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after John Cleveley the Younger (1747-1786)
  • A Section of the 'Boiling Fountains' (Geysers) and the Surrounding Country, Iceland
(?) 1790
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on paper

'Section of the Boiling Fountains and Country near them … copied from a Drawing in the Possession of Sr Joseph Banks Bt. by T. Gurton' on the mount

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Icelandic View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


John Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley of Alderly (1766–1850); then by descent to Suzanne Beadle; her sale, Christie's, 15 June 1982, lot 16iv

About this Work

This watercolour, sadly untraced, is part of a very early group of images of Iceland produced for John Thomas Stanley (1766–1850). Stanley travelled to Iceland in the summer of 1789, following in the footsteps of his friend the famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), who had made the journey in 1772. On his return Stanley commissioned Philip Reinagle (1749–1833), Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821) and Girtin’s master at the time, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), to work up many of his sketches into finished watercolours as records of his trip. In 1790 Stanley also employed the fifteen-year-old Girtin, then in the second year of his apprenticeship to Dayes, to make copies of some of the watercolours that Banks had commissioned following his 1772 trip to Iceland, though the fee from the artist’s first professional engagement would have gone to his master. In all Girtin made nine watercolours based on an earlier set of drawings made for Banks by John Frederick Miller (1759–96), James Miller (active 1773–1814) and John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86). Having failed to publish them as engravings, Banks had them mounted as a souvenir of his northern journey. The four volumes, titled Drawings Illustrative of Sir Joseph Banks’s Voyage to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland, are today kept in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Library (Add Mss 15509–12). Girtin’s first dated works, which were sold by a descendant of Stanley in 1982, therefore depict a country that he did not visit and were careful copies of watercolours made by professionals from sketches they had executed in the field twenty years earlier.

Girtin’s watercolour is copied from a drawing made by Cleveley (see source image above), which depicts a cross-section of the landscape surrounding the Great Geysir in the Haukadalur valley in the south west of Iceland. This was one of the highlights of Banks’ trip in 1772, as it was in 1789 for Stanley, who subsequently commissioned a number of views from Dayes of the spectacular natural phenomenon, both from near to and from a distance. In this case, however, Girtin was engaged to copy a very different sort of image, one that reflected the spirit of Enlightenment enquiry at the heart of both early expeditions to Iceland. Shorn of overt picturesque qualities, the cross-section of the valley records the geology of the area and the disposition of the ‘Boiling Fountains’, as the geysers were termed at the time. More so than any of Girtin’s realisations of the earlier drawings made by Cleverley and his colleagues, the result exemplifies the significant role played by the production of visual records in the Enlightenment voyage of discovery.

by Greg Smith

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