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Works Thomas Girtin

A Watermill beyond a Mill Pond

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1784: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Watermill beyond a Mill Pond, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 8.8 × 11.5 cm, 3 ½ × 4 ½ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.38).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Watermill beyond a Mill Pond
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
8.8 × 11.5 cm, 3 ½ × 4 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; Wind and Water Mills

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


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


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.60b; Rajnai, 1979, p.132

About this Work

This simple monochrome study of an extensive mill complex set behind a pond is one of fifteen generally slight colour sketches, all measuring roughly 8.9 × 11.4 cm (3 ½ × 4 ½ in), that appear to have come from a sketchbook worked late in Girtin’s career. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that these works ‘represent the fruits of local sketching trips taken during the summer of 1802’, and they argued that the fact that none of them were used as the basis for studio watercolours supported a late date (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.84–85). However, only one of the scenes can be identified as a local view, Copenhagen House, Islington (TG1783), and although some of them appear to be imaginary, others resemble the picturesque vernacular subjects sketched by Girtin in Essex three or four years earlier. Thus, whilst the sketches were evidently created at speed, it is unlikely that they were worked up on the spot, being produced instead in the studio to satisfy the market for the less formal aspects of the artist’s output. The evidence that they come from a sketchbook is also ambiguous, since, as the paper historian Peter Bower has pointed out, specialised books for the use of artists were not manufactured at this date, and they either used pocketbooks or they themselves gathered together sheets of paper (Bower, 2002, p.141). New evidence, in the form of the account of John Girtin (1773–1821) of the material that he removed from his brother’s studio at his death, suggests that the latter was the case here. John records that amongst the items that he appropriated to settle his brother’s extensive unpaid debts were ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’, and it seems likely that these included the group of small drawings now in the British Museum, which would, indeed, date from late in his life (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). John Girtin was thus responsible for splitting up the ‘little Books’ and selling the sketches to collectors such as Chambers Hall (1786–1855), the generous patron of the museum (Smith, 2017–18, pp.35–36).

A Mill, Known as 'Maltings on the Wensum'

A much larger version of the composition is in the collection of Norwich Castle Museum, where it has been attributed to John Crome (1768–1821) (see figure 1). The watercolour, which has been identified as showing maltings on the river Wensum, near Norwich, was linked to Girtin’s watercolour by Miklos Rajnai, who not unreasonably queried the nature of the connection between Crome, a member of the Norwich School, and an artist who certainly did not visit East Anglia (Rajnai, 1979, p.132). In normal circumstances, I would suggest that Girtin copied the work from another artist, but in this case it may be that the larger work is the copy, and there is also a possible identity for its author. An inscription on the drawing has been read as ‘Sketch by J. Reynolds’, but this could be ‘S. Reynolds’, referring to Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of Girtin in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. He certainly had access to Girtin’s watercolours and his sketches and therefore had both the means and the motive to realise a version of such a sketch on a large scale. Whatever the case, I suspect that the subject has been misidentified, and there is still an outside possibility that it is by Girtin himself, though verifying this will require a closer inspection than has so far been possible, together with further research on the identity of the mill.

A Water Mill

Another small sketch of a watermill has been attributed to Girtin (see figure 2). The work is known only from a poor-quality black and white photograph, but even so there appears to be no conclusive evidence that might connect it with Girtin, though it may be contemporary at least.

(?) 1802

Copenhagen House, Islington


by Greg Smith

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