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Works Thomas Girtin

A Windmill behind a Barn

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1795: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Windmill behind a Barn, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 8.7 × 11.5 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.41).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Windmill behind a Barn
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
8.7 × 11.5 cm, 3 ⅜ × 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.59c

About this Work

This simple monochrome study of a mill and a barn, seen from a low viewpoint, 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, as here, resemble the picturesque vernacular subjects sketched by Girtin in Essex three or four years earlier (such as TG1416). 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).

Both the mill and the barn shown here may differ in form from the buildings featured in the celebrated large-scale watercolour A Mill in Essex (TG1416), but Girtin set himself a similar compositional challenge using the same elements: namely, how to adopt a low viewpoint to a picturesque scene in order to create an enhanced dramatic effect. Such was the artist’s mastery of composition that despite the perfunctory nature of the washes, he was still able to produce a monumental effect that belies the work’s actual size. Unlike the large watercolour, which has faded grievously over the years, there is no evidence that this was ever anything other than a simple monochrome sketch, created from a few washes. It is likely that the artist was able to work on other similar drawings at the same time, including TG1794 and TG1796, and possibly more that have not been traced.

(?) 1802

Copenhagen House, Islington


(?) 1799

A Mill in Essex


(?) 1799

A Mill in Essex


(?) 1802

A Building with a Tall Chimney, next to a Stream


(?) 1802

Outhouses with a Cart


by Greg Smith

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