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Works Thomas Girtin

A Shady Road Leading to Cottages

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1779: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Shady Road Leading to Cottages, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 11.5 × 8.7 cm, 4 ½ × 3 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.50).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Shady Road Leading to Cottages
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
11.5 × 8.7 cm, 4 ½ × 3 ⅜ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.58a; V&A, 1922, p.51

About this Work

A Shady Road Leading to Cottages

This monochrome study of a shady road leading to cottages is one of fifteen generally slight colour sketches, all measuring roughly 8.9 × 11.4 cm (3 ½ × 4 ½ in), that appear to have come from a sketchbook worked late in Girtin’s career. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that these works ‘represent the fruits of local sketching trips taken during the summer of 1802’, and they argued that the fact that none of them were used as the basis for studio watercolours supported a late date (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.84–85). However, only one of the scenes can be identified as a local view, Copenhagen House, Islington (TG1783), and although some of them appear to be imaginary, others resemble the picturesque vernacular subjects sketched by Girtin in Essex three or four years earlier (TG1757). Thus, whilst the sketches were evidently created at speed, it is unlikely that they were worked up on the spot, being produced instead in the studio to satisfy the market for the less formal aspects of the artist’s output. The evidence that they come from a sketchbook is also ambiguous, since, as the paper historian Peter Bower has pointed out, specialised books for the use of artists were not manufactured at this date, and they either used pocketbooks or they themselves gathered together sheets of paper (Bower, 2002, p.141). New evidence, in the form of the account of John Girtin (1773–1821) of the material that he removed from his brother’s studio at his death, suggests that the latter was the case here. John records that amongst the items that he appropriated to settle his brother’s extensive unpaid debts were ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’, and it seems likely that these included the group of small drawings now in the British Museum, which would, indeed, date from late in his life (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 John Girtin was thus responsible for splitting up the ‘little Books’ and selling the sketches to collectors such as Chambers Hall (1786–1855), the generous patron of the museum (Smith, 2017–18, pp.35–36).

A Shady Road

The drawing is one of only two upright compositions amongst the group of small sketches and, as in its companion, Outhouses with a Cart (TG1796), the choice of format has resulted in a claustrophobic scene. As with a number of the other small sketches, there is a strong sense of the artist trying out a composition, creating in this case an idiosyncratic image that has no obvious parallel with any of his larger watercolours. Working on a small scale in a restricted range of tones also no doubt meant that Girtin was able to colour other similar drawings at the same time, including TG1794 and TG1796, possibly with others that have yet to be identified.

A larger copy of this composition, formerly attributed to Girtin, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (see figure 1). This was presumably made by François Louis Thomas Francia (1772–1839), who published a soft-ground etching of the subject in 1810 in his Studies of Landscapes by T. Gainsborough, J. Hoppner R. A., T. Girtin, Wm. Owen R. A., A. Callcott A., S. Owen, J. Varley, J. S. Hayward and L. Francia: Imitated from the Originals by L. Francia (see figure 2). The print reverses the sense of the original, though the differences in the figures and the form of the vegetation accord with the large-scale copy, which was presumably made in preparation for the etching.

(?) 1802

Copenhagen House, Islington


1800 - 1801

A Farmyard with Cattle, Poultry and Labourers Unloading Hay, Possibly Pinckney’s Farm, Radwinter


(?) 1802

Outhouses with a Cart


(?) 1802

A Building with a Tall Chimney, next to a Stream


(?) 1802

Outhouses with a Cart


by Greg Smith


  1. 1 John Girtin lists this amongst the contents of his brother's studio. Details are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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