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Works Thomas Girtin

A Windmill by a River

1795 - 1800

Print after: William Pengree Sherlock (1776–c.1851), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), soft-ground etching, The Mill by a River, published by Thomas Palser, 31 July 1811, 24 × 31 cm, 9 ½ × 12 ¼ in. British Museum, London (1893,0612.35).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Windmill by a River
1795 - 1800
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Wind and Water Mills

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
The original known only from the print


Oppé, 1955, p.395; Wilcox, 1993, pp.16–17; p.58

About this Work

This view of a windmill by a river is known only from an etching, published in 1811, that is inscribed ‘Drawn by T. Girtin’. Given that the original on which the print is based has not otherwise been recorded, it is included here with a significant note of caution. There is thus no proof that the original drawing was by Girtin, and neither is there any indication of how closely the author of the etching, William Pengree Sherlock (1776–c.1851), followed his model, which may have been no more than a small sketch, and it is certainly not possible to give a date for the lost work. Despite this, the etching has featured extensively in the Girtin literature on account of its similarity to landscapes by the great Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–69), in particular his The Mill (see figure 1), which came to London in 1793 from the collection of Louis Philippe Joseph, duc d’Orléans (1747–93) (Wilcox, 1993, pp.16–17 and 58). Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak were particularly keen to discern the influence of Rembrandt’s deep, sombre colouring on Girtin, suggesting that the personal experience of the artist’s oil panting was the catalyst for late works such as Bridgnorth (TG1755) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.88–89). Whilst there may be something in this argument, in this case the influence is more likely to have been felt at one remove, and I suspect that Girtin may have known the work through the engraving made by François Dequevauviller (1745–1807) and Jean Mathieu (1749–1815) (see figure 2), which, like the print after Girtin’s lost drawing, reverses Rembrandt’s composition. The crucial point, however, is that the image is far from a straightforward copy, contrary to the way that so many of Girtin’s watercolours closely follow their prototypes in the work of artists from earlier generations. Girtin’s Windmill includes a simpler landscape and a four-square smock mill of the type commonly seen on the banks of the Thames, and its relationship to Rembrandt’s composition is more in the form of an echo or variation on a theme. Though there is no suggestion that the lost drawing depicts an actual view, it may be that as with An Imaginary Coastal Scene, with the Horizontal Air Mill at Battersea (TG1408), Girtin created a suitable setting from a recollection of Rembrandt’s composition for one of the capital’s many mills.




1797 - 1798

An Imaginary Coastal Scene, with the Horizontal Air Mill at Battersea


by Greg Smith

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