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Works Thomas Girtin

A View of Hills and a River, Probably in North Wales

(?) 1798

Primary Image: TG1336: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A View of Hills and a River, Probably in North Wales, (?) 1798, watercolour on laid paper, 14.9 × 25.6 cm, 5 ⅞ × 10 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.12).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A View of Hills and a River, Probably in North Wales
(?) 1798
Medium and Support
Watercolour on laid paper
14.9 × 25.6 cm, 5 ⅞ × 10 ⅛ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; North Wales

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
444 as '"View of Hills and River" (possibly in the Wharfe Valley)'; '1801'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1975, no.90 as ’Hills and Stream’; London, 1985, no.81b; London, 2002, no.124 as ’View of Hills and River’; Rome, 2014, no.71 as ’Views of the Hills of Snowdonia (?)’


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.4 as 'Hills and Stream'; Mayne, 1949, p.93; Williams, 1952, p.107; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.83; Lemaître, 1955, pl.2

About this Work

This fine on-the-spot colour sketch was probably painted in North Wales on Girtin’s visit to the region in 1798, though the precise location is yet to be identified. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that it was a Yorkshire view dating from 1801, and they suggested that it might show the river Wharfe (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.195). However, as the paper historian Peter Bower has noted, it is painted on the same distinctive buff-grey laid wrapping paper made by an unknown English manufacturer that Girtin used for two other on-the-spot sketches of Welsh subjects, Denbigh Castle (TG1337) and Mynydd Mawr (TG1327) (Smith, 2002b, p.160; Bower, Report). These can be confidently dated to 1798 since the latter was used as the basis for a studio watercolour that is dated 1799, and there is consequently little doubt that this work too was sketched earlier than the date proposed by Girtin and Loshak. Even without this technical information, and despite the continuing uncertainty about the view’s subject, the links between this sketch and other Welsh scenes point conclusively to the fact that it too was painted on the 1798 tour. The broad, flat wash of colour in the foreground with blots caused by excess water, as seen in A Mountain View, near Beddgelert (TG1321); the almost abstract field patterns receding into the distance, which also feature in the Denbigh Castle view; and, above all, the fluid and rapid execution of the sky as the artist struggled to capture the changing effect of scattered clouds, as observed in the Mynydd Mawr scene, all have their close equivalents in this sketch of an unknown view. Moreover, the way that a break in the stormy sky has lit up the near hill whilst plunging the more distant mountain into deep gloom is particularly characteristic of Girtin’s on-the-spot colour studies from the 1798 tour, which collectively demonstrate an awareness of the way that accidents of light, in this case the result of a passing storm, can transform a landscape. Painting swiftly, and on a small scale with just a few tones, Girtin had the technical ability to capture much of this with a fidelity that still excites and surprises, and, though Girtin and Loshak may have got the date of the work wrong, they were surely right to conclude that this is ‘perhaps the most powerful of all Girtin’s on-the-spot water-colours’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.83).

Efforts to identify the location of the work have concentrated on two areas. In the 2002 catalogue to the bicentenary exhibition, I suggested that it might show the same valley of the river Clywd seen in the background of the view of Denbigh Castle, and there are indeed parallels with the scenery in a location that Girtin definitely sketched in 1798 (Smith, 2002b, p.160). More recently, the British Museum has looked at the possibility that the sketch shows a view from near Porthmadog, ‘with the River Mawddach in the foreground and the Snowdonia mountains in the background, including Moel Siabod (the blue mountain on the left)’ (British Museum, Collection, 1855,0214.12). This again looks quite plausible, and it has the added attraction of fitting in with Girtin’s itinerary, as we know that he visited and sketched the nearby Cain Falls (TG1319). However, the fact that the new identification is plausible, rather than definitive, is perhaps the point, because in the end it is actually the lack of topographical specificity that is the key characteristic of the artist’s later works, and the true subject of this sketch, a weather effect and a landscape transformed by light, is fully recognisable even if the location is not.

(?) 1798

Denbigh Castle and the Vale of Clwyd


(?) 1798

Pont Seiont, Looking towards Mynydd Mawr (Big Mountain)


(?) 1798

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert


(?) 1798

The Cain Falls (Pistyll Cain), near Dolgellau


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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