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Works Thomas Girtin after Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto)

A Venetian Building with Figures: A Detail from Canaletto's 'A Portico with a Lantern'

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0901: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697–1768), A Venetian Building with Figures: A Detail from Canaletto's 'A Portico with a Lantern', 1796–97, graphite on paper, 18 × 22 cm, 7 ⅛ × 8 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697–1768), etching, A Portico with a Lantern, 1735–46, 29.8 × 43.1 cm, 11 ¾ × 17 in. British Museum, London (1838,0526.4.10).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697-1768)
  • A Venetian Building with Figures: A Detail from Canaletto's 'A Portico with a Lantern'
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite on paper
18 × 22 cm, 7 ⅛ × 8 ⅝ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing; Work from a Known Source: Foreign Master
Subject Terms
Italian View: Venice

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Sotheby’s, 11 July 1996, lot 6 as 'Study of Figures by an Italianate Building', £1,150

About this Work

This drawing of a Venetian building shows a detail derived from an etching titled A Portico with a Lantern by Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697–1768) (see the source image above). Covering less than half of Canaletto’s composition, the copyist has isolated the humble Venetian building from its grand arched frame, and, though the composition principally follows the original, the structure has been extended to the right. The drawing is not signed, unlike the roughly contemporary copy of part of The Temple of Saturn in Rome, which is Girtin’s only other architectural study from this period (TG0895), but though the image I have worked from is poor, there is arguably little reason to doubt the attribution of the work, and details such as the handling of the roof tiles are entirely characteristic of his draughtsmanship. More problematic are the questions of where the artist got access to Canaletto’s etching and for what reason he produced a partial copy of it. The obvious answer to the former is the home of Girtin’s early patron John Henderson (1764–1843), who commissioned as many as five watercolours and drawings after works by Canaletto, including a view of the Rialto Bridge (TG0897). But these were made from prints after Canaletto’s oil paintings and it is not known whether the collector owned any of the artist’s autograph etchings. Another possibility is that Girtin copied the print at the home of another early patron, Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), and a manuscript ‘Catalogue of Prints and Drawings’ in his possession, a copy of which is in the Girtin Archive (36), lists ‘Canaletti’ as one of the artists represented in his collection. However, the pencil drawing bears little resemblance to the vast number of monochrome watercolour copies that Girtin, together with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), were employed by Monro to produce, and instead it would appear to have been executed by the artist for his own purposes. Girtin is known to have taken a keen interest in architecture, but this probably imaginary building does not seem worthy of the artist’s close attention, unless it caught his eye as the sort of structure that might make a picturesque addition to a composition. At its appearance at auction in 1996, it was suggested that the drawing was evidence of the influence of ‘Canaletto’s drawing style’ on Girtin. However, whilst many of Girtin’s drawings of architectural subjects around 1794–95, such The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral (TG1014), show clear signs of Canaletto’s manner, this sketch, aside from its subject matter, displays no obvious debt to the older artist’s draughtsmanship and I discount this as the motivation behind its production.

graphite on paper, 19 × 20.5 cm, 7 ½ × 8 ⅛ in. Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery (1951.235.621.B2).

My uncertainty about Girtin’s motive in producing a partial copy of a Canaletto etching prompted Jeremy Yates to contact me with an intriguing counter proposal (email dated 25 July 2023). Directing me to another partial copy of the same etching attributed to John Sell Cotman (1782–1842) in the collection of Norwich Castle Museum (see figure 1), Yates suggests that this drawing too is by a young Cotman possibly working at Monro’s home and that stylistically it is closer to his early work than to Girtin’s. The Cotman drawing is described as a tracing, but superimposing images of both drawings over an image of the etching confirms that the Norwich sheet has not been traced either from the print or the work by Girtin as, although it replicates the architectural details carefully, it changes the proportions of the building and the position of the windows and thereby departs more decisively from the source than is the case with TG0901. It is highly unlikely that two artists would independently copy the same detail of an etching, but equally I cannot see why the same person would produce both a close copy and a variation on the composition with more four-square proportions; and in any case to my eye the two drawings are not obviously by the same hand. Further research into the sketches may well lead to a different conclusion, and a better colour image of TG0901 would certainly help, but at this stage the best I can suggest is that this, the more accomplished drawing, is indeed by Girtin and that it was made at Monro’s home where, in turn, Cotman either made a variant copy of it as he did in the case of shipping scenes such as Boats Beached in Dover Old Harbour (see TG0815 figure 1) or, inspired by Girtin’s example, went back to the original print to refashion the composition in a slightly different format.

1797 - 1798

Rome: Study of the Entablature of the Temple of Saturn


1796 - 1797

Venice: The Rialto Bridge


(?) 1794

The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral


1795 - 1796

Vessels in the Harbour at Dover, with the Castle Beyond


by Greg Smith

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