On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid writing paper, manufactured by an unknown English maker (Bower, 2002, p.140; Bower, Report). This is different from the buff-grey laid wrapping paper that was used by both Porter and Munn, and this again points to the existence of two different castle subjects amongst the earliest Sketching Society drawings, since it was the responsibility of the evening’s host not only to choose the passage for illustration but also to provide the materials. It is also important to point out that the attribution of the drawing to Girtin is not without some uncertainty. It has been suggested that the work may in fact be by Cotman, and the simplified application of washes of grey in broad patterns does indeed have much in common with Girtin’s younger contemporary. However, the underlying pencil work appears to be in Girtin’s distinctive hand, and I suspect that the similarities in the handling to Cotman’s work reflect the older artist’s widespread influence at this date.
The Frozen Watermill, from William Cowper’s ‘The Task’