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Works Thomas Girtin after John Cleveley the Younger

An Icelandic Woman in Her Bridal Dress

(?) 1790

Primary Image: TG0010: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86), An Icelandic Woman in Her Bridal Dress, (?) 1790, graphite and watercolour on paper, on an orignal mount, 48.5 × 35 cm, 19 ⅛ × 13 ¾ in. National Museum, Iceland (Stnl-32).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86), An Icelandic Woman in Her Bridal Dress, 1772, watercolour and pen and ink on paper, 35 × 27 cm, 13 ¾ × 10 ⅝ in. British Library, London (Add Ms 15512, f.17).

Photo courtesy of The British Library Board

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after John Cleveley the Younger (1747-1786)
  • An Icelandic Woman in Her Bridal Dress
(?) 1790
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper, on an orignal mount
48.5 × 35 cm, 19 ⅛ × 13 ¾ in

‘copied by Thomas Girton from a Drawing in the Posesion of Sir Joseph Banks / done by Jno Cleverley Junr. 1772’ lower left; ‘An Iceland Woman in her Bridal Dress’ outside the original ruled mount

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Figure Study; Icelandic View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


John Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley of Alderly (1766–1850); then by descent to Suzanne Beadle; her sale, Christie’s, 15 June 1982, lot 19ii; bought by the Icelandic Government

About this Work

This costume study is part of a group of very early signed and dated watercolours that Girtin produced for John Thomas Stanley (1766–1850). Stanley travelled to Iceland in the summer of 1789, following in the footsteps of his friend the famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), who had made the journey in 1772. On his return Stanley commissioned Philip Reinagle (1749–1833), Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821) and Girtin’s master at the time, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), to work up many of his sketches into finished watercolours as records of his trip. In 1790 Stanley also employed the fifteen-year-old Girtin, then in the second year of his apprenticeship to Dayes, to make copies of some of the watercolours that Banks had commissioned following his 1772 trip to Iceland, though the fee from the artist’s first professional engagement would have gone to his master. In all Girtin made nine watercolours based on an earlier set of drawings made for Banks by John Frederick Miller (1759–96), James Miller (active 1773–1814) and John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86). Having failed to publish them as engravings, Banks had them mounted as a souvenir of his northern journey. The four volumes, titled Drawings Illustrative of Sir Joseph Banks’s Voyage to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland, are today kept in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Library (Add Mss 15509–12). Girtin’s first dated works, which were sold by a descendant of Stanley in 1982, therefore depict a country that he did not visit and were careful copies of watercolours made by professionals from sketches they had executed in the field twenty years earlier.

hand-coloured engraving, 'An Icelandic Lady in Her Bridal Dress', frontispiece to William Jackson Hooker, <i>Journal of a Tour in Iceland in the Summer of 1809</i>, vol.1, London, 1813. British Library, London (982.e.3).

The watercolour Girtin made for Stanley to illustrate the highly decorative costume worn by brides in Iceland was copied from a drawing by Cleveley that was bound into the fourth volume of drawings executed for Banks (see source image above). Early visitors to Iceland were invariably struck by the distinctive costume worn by women of all classes, and Sir William Hooker (1785–1865) used a reproduction of Cleveley’s drawing to illustrate the long description of the different components of the dress (figure 1) in his Journal of a Tour in Iceland in the Summer of 1809. Beginning with a description of the ‘most singular … Faldur, or head-dress’, Hooker explains how this traditional part of the costume was enhanced for a bride by the addition of rich ornaments and complemented by a shoulder chain (Hooker, 1813, p.73). The richly patterned textiles and the use of gold lace and silver gilt jewellery indicate that the woman came from a wealthy family. There is some evidence, as with another of the costume studies copied by Girtin (TG0002), that she can be identified as Sigríður Magnúsdóttir (1734–1807). Magnúsdóttir was the wife of the deputy governor, Ólafur Stephensen (1731–1812), who entertained both Banks and Stanley on their trips. Therefore, although the latter did not identify her in his inscription on Girtin’s copy, there is little doubt that the work was commissioned as more than just an exotic costume study. Banks’ artists also recorded many of the ornaments worn by Magnúsdóttir and some of these seem to have been incorporated into the costume.


An Icelandic Woman with Her Young Daughter


by Greg Smith

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