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Works Thomas Girtin

Above Lyme Regis, Looking across Marshwood Vale

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1254: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Above Lyme Regis, Looking across Marshwood Vale, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 24.8 × 51.7 cm, 9 ¾ × 20 ⅜ in. Harvard Art Museums / Fogg Museum, Marian H. Phinney Fund (2022.225).

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Above Lyme Regis, Looking across Marshwood Vale
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
24.8 × 51.7 cm, 9 ¾ × 20 ⅜ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Panoramic Format; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
240 as 'Above Lyme Regis'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2015


Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 13 May 1881, lot 87; bought by 'Palser', £23 2s; J. Palser & Sons; bought by Edward Cohen (1816–87), 1881; then by bequest to his niece, Isabella Oswald (1838–1905); her posthumous sale, Robins & Hine, 30 March 1905, lot 357; bought by J. Palser & Sons, £16 16s, for Sir Edward Marsh (1872–1953) (lent to London, 1916); bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.9706), 3 May 1920; bought by Sir Stephen Lewis Courtauld (1883–1967), 18 May 1920, £450; Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1931; a UK private collector; then by descent; Christie's, South Kensington, 9 December 2015, lot 213; bought by Richard Green, Ltd, £76,900; Christie’s, New York, 31 January 2019, lot 110, unsold; Sotheby's, New York, 26 January 2022, lot 60; bought by Harvard Art Museums, Marian H. Phinney Fund

Exhibition History

London, 1916, no.107; Agnew’s, 1921, no.26; Agnew’s, 1931, no.103


Oppé, 1921, p.134; Schoenherr, 2005, pp.62–63; Morris, 2016, not paginated

About this Work

This is one of two panoramic views of the upland landscape near Lyme Regis in Dorset (the other being TG1253) that Girtin painted on his return from his 1797 tour to the West Country. The artist is documented as having been in Exeter in early November, and it seems that his visit, to sketch an interior view of the cathedral, was preceded by a journey through Dorset that took in Weymouth and Abbotsbury, as well as Lyme Regis, where he also produced a significant on-the-spot colour study looking down to the town (TG1250) (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 The pair of panoramic scenes were taken from the same location, a few kilometres to the north east of Lyme, and, as Susan Morris has shown, this view looks south west from the Iron Age hill fort at Pilsdon Pen across Marshwood Vale, whilst its companion, taken from higher up the slopes, turns to the south east towards Portland. More specifically, this scene shows a glimpse of the sea near Charmouth (to the left) and another Iron Age hill fort (Lambert’s Castle, in the centre), whilst to the right ‘the ridge runs across to Raymond’s Hill before dropping down to Lyme’ (Morris, 2016, p.14). Shown together, the two watercolours would have formed an extended view covering over half of the 360-degree panorama visible from one of the highest points in the county. There was a precedent for this in Girtin’s work, in the form of the three outline drawings of London that make up the Panorama of the Thames from the Adelphi Terrace (TG1378, TG1379 and TG1380), which appear to have been commissioned by Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Covering a view made famous by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697–1768)), and including some of the city’s most famous monuments, they have an obvious subject interest that these views of the Dorset landscape lack. The scenes are not exactly featureless, but they have no obvious focus, and the landmarks they feature require detailed local knowledge to be appreciated or, indeed, identified; it is the sheer ordinariness of the views, as much as their panoramic format, that constitutes their status as a radical innovation, therefore. It is hard to believe that they were simply views that caught Girtin’s attention as he travelled between Abbotsbury and Lyme, and indeed the spot from which they were taken, one of the highest points in the county, would have required a significant detour. The watercolours must therefore surely have been commissioned by someone with a close connection with the area. The early provenance of the works is not known, however, and it has not been possible to establish the precise circumstances of their production; certainly, there is no connection with the famous tenants of the nearby Racedown House. William (1770–1850) and Dorothy (1771–1855) Wordsworth, the latter of whom wrote movingly of the views from Pilsdon Pen, moved away a few months before Girtin’s visit.

The pair of panoramic Lyme views are not dated, but, given their stylistic links to the view of Lyme that Girtin probably showed at the 1798 Royal Academy exhibition (TG1251), particularly in the way that the landscape in the distance is treated, there is no doubt that they were also produced in the recent aftermath of the 1797 tour. They consequently mark a key point in Girtin’s development of the panoramic mode. Both panoramic views are markedly more successful than the more conventional view of Lyme in their treatment of the foreground and its relationship to the distance in an elevated view, and in that respect they also mark a significant advance on another extended vista with the same one-to-two proportions produced at this time, The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins (TG1229). That said, this south-west view over Marshwood Vale is noticeably less attractive than its pair. This is partly down to its slightly faded state, but the light emerging from a relatively featureless sky, roughly at midday, lacks the interest and variety created by the broken sky seen in the south-east view, which depicts a later time. The rather bland result is a reminder that pictorial unity is in itself not a guarantee of quality, and that there is a more satisfying sense of harmony that stems from balancing different elements within the whole.

1797 - 1798

A Panoramic View near Lyme Regis


(?) 1797

The Coast of Dorset, with Lyme Regis Below


(?) 1796

A Panoramic View of the Thames from the Adelphi Terrace, Section One: Somerset House to Blackfriars Bridge


(?) 1796

A Panoramic View of the Thames from the Adelphi Terrace, Section Two: The Surrey Bank


(?) 1796

A Panoramic View of the Thames from the Adelphi Terrace, Section Three: Westminster Bridge to York Stairs


1797 - 1798

The Coast of Dorset, with Lyme Regis Below


1797 - 1798

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The financial records of the artist's brother John Girtin (1773–1821) include two loans he made to Thomas Girtin during the trip. The records are transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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