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Works Thomas Girtin

A Study of a Lion from the Tower of London

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1519: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Study of a Lion from the Tower of London, 1797–98, graphite on paper, 15 × 19 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Study of a Lion from the Tower of London
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite on paper
15 × 19 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ½ in

‘Girtin - from a Lion in the Tower’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Animal Study

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


William Henry Millais (1828–99); then by descent; Sotheby’s, 13 July 1995, lot 26, £1,725

About this Work

This study of a lion leaping dramatically towards us is one of two signed sketches of animals on paper of the same size that would otherwise have been difficult to associate with the artist (the other being TG1518). The inscription usefully notes that the drawing was made ‘from a Lion in the Tower’, referring to the fact that the Tower of London was used as a zoo well into the nineteenth century, and it is indeed the only place where the artist might have come across a lion at this date, though Girtin would have had to be very lucky to observe an adult male lion in attack mode. In fact the inscription, which I think is by Girtin, is actually slightly ambiguous as it does not claim that the artist himself witnessed the lion but merely that it came from the Tower, which just about covers the more probable scenario that the image was copied from an artist who had studied the lions there as part of his professional practice as an animal painter, namely Samuel Howitt (1756–1822) (see figure 1 and figure 2). Girtin collaborated with Howitt on the production of at least two watercolours showing deer in the royal parks at Richmond and Windsor (TG1373 and TG1374), with Girtin painting the landscapes and Howitt adding in the animals, and the two artists must have known each other’s work. In this case, I suspect that Girtin based his drawing on a finished watercolour by Howitt and that he adapted the composition to create the improbable and unconvincing image seen here, rather than copying one of Howitt’s on-the-spot sketches; the claim that his drawing was ‘from a Lion in the Tower’ was technically true, therefore, but only at two removes.

1797 - 1798

Studies of Goats


1795 - 1796

Stags Fighting amongst a Herd of Deer in Windsor Great Park, with the Castle in the Distance


1795 - 1796

A Herd of Deer in Richmond Park


by Greg Smith

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