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Works Thomas Girtin

A Street in Weymouth

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG1241: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Street in Weymouth, (?) 1797, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 21.9 × 28.5 cm, 8 ⅝ × 11 ¼ in. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2929-1876).

Photo courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Street in Weymouth
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
21.9 × 28.5 cm, 8 ⅝ × 11 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; Street Scene; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


James Ward (1769–1859); his posthumous sale, Foster's, 9 May 1860, lot 138 as 'A Street in Weymouth; a study from nature'; William Smith (1808–76); bequeathed to the Museum, 1876

Exhibition History

USA, 1966–67, no.42; Manchester, 1975, no.21; London, 2002, no.130; Shenzhen, 2012, catalogue not traced


Davies, 1924, pl.56; V&A, 1927, p.231; Mayne, 1949, p.98; Lambourne and Hamilton, 1980, p.150; Bower, 2002, p.140; Coombs, 2012, pp.45–46

About this Work

This attractive colour sketch of a street in Weymouth, on the Dorset coast, was almost certainly executed on the artist’s West Country tour in the autumn of 1797. Girtin is documented as having been in Exeter in early November and Bideford in north Devon later in the month, suggesting that if, as now seems likely, he visited Southampton first (see TG1234a), he then proceeded along the south coast to Weymouth in the latter part of October (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 After Southampton, the fast-developing resort town of Weymouth would have been a logical and convenient stop on the way to Exeter, though Girtin may also have been attracted to the location by the earlier experience of depicting the harbour for his patron James Moore (1762–99) (TG0911). That watercolour, which almost certainly predates Girtin’s visit to Weymouth in 1797, was probably executed from Moore’s on-the-spot sketches, and it makes an important feature of the new seafront buildings that sprang up in the wake of the royal family’s well-publicised visits to the newly fashionable resort. However, for this, one of two on-the-spot sketches Girtin made at Weymouth in 1797 (the other being TG1240), the artist looked inland to the older and more obviously picturesque part of the town, though why it was that he produced a second study of what appears to be the same motif is difficult to determine. It is possible that he was attracted by the location’s scene of busy commerce, with the line of carts shown here relating to the market visible in the other study, but no finished studio work resulted from either sketch. It is also possible that such colour studies, unlike the view of Abbotsbury (TG1244), were not always made with a studio watercolour in mind, and instead were produced with the intention of incorporating elements into other views. A very similar row of buildings with carts and horses appears in the background of St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury (TG1756), and, as the example of Kirk Deighton (TG1647) illustrates, Girtin sometimes added structures, noted from elsewhere, to the foreground of otherwise recognisable locations. The presence of a signature to the right suggests another option, however; is it possible that even at this early juncture in his career, Girtin was thinking that there might be a market for his on-the-spot colour sketches? If this was the case, the smaller sketch with its location inscribed was made for his own use, and the signed, more complete study with a sky added to finish the effect of a sunny day was for the art market, where the addition of ‘Girtin’ might have been a key selling point.

Girtin had hitherto only produced a handful of colour sketches when he embarked on the 1797 tour, preferring to apply monochrome washes over a pencil drawing when working on the spot, but this is one of at least five examples that supplemented the smaller outlines he made on the trip. Concurrently with this change in his working practice in the field, the artist also began to produce small, sketch-like works in the studio, but the on-the-spot colouring of the two Weymouth studies can be distinguished from those works by a number of features. In this case, the drawing displays clear signs that it was worked on away from the studio environment as the artist was not able to control the application of his washes in areas of the sky and the foreground, suggesting a sketch produced at speed. The use of a limited palette of just a few colours, variants of olive green and a warmer roof tone, together with the blue in the sky, is another sign of a sketch worked in the field. However, in contrast to the other Weymouth scene, there are some areas where the artist has worked over a different tone, and this would have required leaving the view for a time to dry out. Perhaps it was therefore the case that Girtin worked on both sketches at the same time.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid writing paper manufactured by a small provincial English maker whose writing papers have impurities that make them look like cartridges (Smith, 2002b, p.169; Bower, Report). Numerous small discolourations can indeed be seen across the sheet, the rough surface of which seems particularly suited to the varied textures of a vernacular architectural scene. Unusually for the artist, the drawing is worked on the smoother feltside.

(?) 1797

A Distant View of Southampton


1796 - 1797

The Harbour at Weymouth


(?) 1797

The Market Rooms, Weymouth


(?) 1797

The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury


(?) 1802

St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury



Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The financial records of the artist's brother John Girtin (1773–1821) include two loans he made to Thomas Girtin during the trip. The records are transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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