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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

A Study of River Boat at Anchor

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1813: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Study of River Boat at Anchor, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 29 × 33.5 cm, 11 ⅜ × 13 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Mallams, Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Study of River Boat at Anchor
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
29 × 33.5 cm, 11 ⅜ × 13 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ on the back

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 1994


The Property of a Lady; Sotheby’s, 14 July 1994, lot 100 as 'Study of Boats at Anchor' by Thomas Girtin; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £5,750; ... Mallams, Oxford, 17 October 2018, lot 101 as 'Boats at Anchor' by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

When this study of a river boat at anchor first appeared at auction in 1994, it was described as ‘a working sketch’ for watercolours such as The Ouse Bridge, York (TG1649), and there is a similarity in the vessels shown in both the sketch and the watercolour, and in a number of other views of inland ports that Girtin depicted in his studio works. Indeed, one can well imagine that relatively detailed studies such as this might have been useful in the painting of the artist’s London panorama, the Eidometropolis. The outline and colour drawings for section five, showing the Thames from the Temple to Blackfriars (TG1856 and TG1857), include a number of sketchy outlines of vessels, which would have had to be fleshed out on the final monumental canvas, and a drawing such as this could conceivably have been used by one of Girtin’s assistants in the painting process. However, the sketch seems to me to be rather more than a ‘working’ drawing, so that the addition of washes of colour to indicate the sky, the water and even the reflections of the boats suggests a greater degree of picture-making than was strictly required, and this, together with its generous scale, indicates that we are looking at something rather different from the frankly utilitarian object associated with the term ‘working drawing’.

Two possibilities regarding the status of the sketch suggest themselves. The first relates to Girtin’s practice of selling his on-the-spot sketches and the suspicion that he may have sometimes enhanced them in the studio to make them more attractive to purchasers. This watercolour may be more carefully wrought than is necessary to fulfil a role in the production of a studio watercolour, but it seems well calculated to make an attractive example of the artist’s practice of working in colour from nature, and it may be that it was improved in the studio to attract the interest of customers. The other option is more radical and stems from a long-standing nagging doubt about the attribution: namely, that although the sketch is a fine and attractive thing, it may not be by Girtin, with the name of Peter De Wint (1784–1849) springing readily to mind. There is something in the palette and the careful modelling of the forms of the boat that looks to me to be closer to his sketching style than Girtin’s. De Wint’s early work was much influenced by Girtin and there are examples of his watercolours being misattributed to the artist, with Lincoln Cathedral, Viewed from Below (TG1013) being an obvious example. Thus, although I have not been able to find anything comparable amongst the younger artist’s on-the-spot studies, I still suspect that the attribution of this sketch will have to be changed at some point.


The Ouse Bridge, York


(?) 1801

The Thames from the Temple to Blackfriars: Outline Study for the ‘Eidometropolis’, Section Five


(?) 1801

The Thames from the Temple to Blackfriars: Colour Study for the ‘Eidometropolis’, Section Five


(?) 1810

Lincoln Cathedral, Viewed from Below


by Greg Smith

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