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Works Thomas Girtin

A Study of a Young Girl

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG1515: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Study of a Young Girl, 1794–95, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, on an original mount of laid paper, 16 × 9.7 cm, 6 ¼ × 3 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1859,1210.918).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Study of a Young Girl
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, on an original mount of laid paper
16 × 9.7 cm, 6 ¼ × 3 ¾ in
Mount Dimensions
19.3 × 11.3 cm, 7 ⅝ × 4 ⅜ in

‘T. Girtin’ lower centre of the mount, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Figure Study

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
411 as 'Portrait Study of a Young Woman'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


'Mackay'; bought from him by the Museum, 1859


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.30

About this Work

This study of a young girl was confidently dated by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak to 1800 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.190). Though they gave no grounds for this, I suspect it was because they thought that what they called a ‘Portrait Study’ might depict Girtin’s bride, Mary Ann Borrett (1781–1843), whom he married on 16 October of that year. Tom Girtin (1913–94) believed that she was only sixteen years old at the time, and subsequent biographical accounts have repeated this error when in fact she was born on 8 January 1781, making her nineteen to her husband’s twenty-five (Hill, 1999, p.11). It is just possible that this study shows Mary Ann, and that might account for why the artist went to some trouble to mount the drawing and add his signature, but the girl appears to be younger than nineteen. Moreover, although the signature seems to be authentic and the pencil work is not inconsistent with some of Girtin’s other figure subjects, the poor quality of the drawing is more in keeping with a date of, say, 1794–95, if not earlier. The ungainly depiction of the arms and the lack of either a convincing form beneath the shapeless folds of drapery or any sense of articulation within the figure all suggest the work of a young artist who had not gone through the rigours of academic training. If this was the case, rather than being a study of the artist’s wife, could it be that it depicts his sister, Mary? She was born in 1777 and, together with the artist himself, was still living in the home of their mother in St Martin’s-le-Grand at this earlier date.

by Greg Smith

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