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Works Thomas Girtin after Philips Koninck

A Town on an Estuary

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG0903: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Philips Koninck (1619–88), A Town on an Estuary, 1799–1800, graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and scratching out on laid paper, 17.6 × 31 cm, 6 ⅞ × 12 ¼ in. Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, RI, anonymous gift (71.153.43).

Photo courtesy of Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Anonymous gift (71.153.43) (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: Jean Baptiste Chatelain (1710–58), after Rembrandt van Rijn (now attributed to Philips Koninck (1619–88)), Landscape with City and Windmills, 1744, 31.3 × 40.4 cm, 12 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 15 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1869,0410.1192).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Philips Koninck (1619-1688)
  • A Town on an Estuary
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and scratching out on laid paper
17.6 × 31 cm, 6 ⅞ × 12 ¼ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Foreign Master
Subject Terms
Panoramic Format; River Scenery; Wind and Water Mills

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


P & D Colnaghi & Co Ltd, 1959; bought from them by an anonymous collector, £300; presented to the Museum, 1971

Exhibition History

Colnaghi’s, 1959, no.59 (catalogue untraced); Rhode Island, 1972, no.43


Wilcox, 1993, p.16; Schoenherr, 2005, pp.62–63

About this Work

This watercolour of a distant town on an estuary, with a pastoral scene in the foreground, was made by Girtin from an etching by Jean Baptiste Chatelain (c.1710–58) of a painting that was then attributed to Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–69) (see the source image above). The etching, which was published by Arthur Pond (1701–58) in 1744, actually reproduces a painting by another seventeenth-century Dutch artist, Philips Koninck (1619–88), though Girtin could not have known this, and he must have believed that he was copying one of Rembrandt’s few landscapes. As with a number of other watercolour versions that Girtin made after prints around 1800, including three Venetian views after Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697–1768) (such as TG0898), the artist cut the composition at the bottom and more extensively in the sky, in order to create a more panoramic format. Otherwise, Girtin followed his source closely, only occasionally removing a figure or simplifying a form, and (typically) he did not add to the composition.

Establishing the function of a work, and by extension its position within Girtin’s development as an artist, is not always straightforward, and it is made more difficult in this case by the work’s poor, faded condition, with an unsightly water stain to the right. However, although the work is not of the highest standard, there is no question about the attribution to Girtin, and it is possible that the muted colour range was at least partly chosen to mirror the typical palette of an early Dutch landscape painting. The work certainly has stylistic elements in common with other watercolours that Girtin made around 1800 from reproductions of the work of eighteenth-century landscape artists, including Marco Ricci (1676–1730) and Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78) (such as TG1916 and TG0885 respectively). Thus, it is unlikely that this landscape was made for patrons such as Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) or John Henderson (1764–1843), who had commissioned numerous copies after sketches and prints in their possession at a slightly earlier date, as Girtin in all probability produced it for sale on the open market as a new type of commodity that he pioneered. The production of watercolour versions of reproductive prints gave the artist a chance to match his skills against an admired master, and, at a time when the Continent was cut off for travellers from Britain by war, it showcased his ability to rise to the challenge of depicting foreign views without leaving his native city.

This unassuming watercolour has nonetheless featured prominently in the Girtin literature on account of what one writer called a ‘concrete indication of the strong influence of Dutch seventeenth-century painters on English artists’ (Exhibitions: Rhode Island, 1972, no.43). Two features, in particular, stand out as relevant to Girtin’s development as an artist and to the role of Dutch landscape art. Firstly, prints such as this are clearly the source of a characteristic panoramic structure that articulates key works from around 1800, such as Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (TG1740), in which a featureless foreground gives way to the main points of interest lined up in the middle distance. Secondly (and another feature of the composition better known as The White House at Chelsea), Dutch artists such as Jan van Goyen (1596–1656), Koninck and Rembrandt himself dispense with conventional framing devices, so that the painted landscape appears to have been cut from a larger field of vision. The fact that Girtin’s panoramic compositions follow Dutch models around this date does not mean, however, that A Town on an Estuary was copied as a means of advancing his art. The point to stress here is that this watercolour did not influence the more famous work, as although the two watercolours were conceived at roughly the same time, they were created as distinct commodities, aimed at slightly different sectors of the market.

1797 - 1798

Venice: The Grand Canal, from Santa Maria della Carità, Looking to San Marco Basin


1800 - 1801

An Italianate Landscape with Two Monks


1799 - 1800

The Arch of Janus



Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea)


by Greg Smith

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