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Works Thomas Girtin

An Open Field with a Cart and Horses, Known as ‘The Carter’

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1523: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), An Open Field with a Cart and Horses, Known as 'The Carter', 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 16.2 × 30.4 cm, 6 ⅜ × 12 in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.4).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Open Field with a Cart and Horses, Known as ‘The Carter’
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
16.2 × 30.4 cm, 6 ⅜ × 12 in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Rural Labour; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
338 as 'The Carter'; '1799–1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Samuel Woodburn (1786–1853); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 24 May 1854, lot 775 as 'A Hayfield, with a Cart'; bought by 'Hall', £4 7s; Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.3; Binyon, 1900, pl.12; Bower, 2002, p.138

About this Work

This panoramic landscape is something of an anomaly in Girtin’s output, concentrating as it does on a rural activity that appears to have been carefully studied from nature, at least in the case of the central motif of the cart and white horse. The distinctive form of the cart wheels suggests that it was based on a drawing such as Four Studies of a Cart (TG1522), which, though it shows a different vehicle, includes the same level of attention to detail. All of this is in contrast with the landscape, which has a generic quality. It is possible that the setting was based on a sketch made on the spot, and its flat open character might suggest a location in Essex, where Girtin worked around 1799, but it feels as though it has been added around the subject of the cart, in an inversion of Girtin’s characteristic practice, where details such as a horse and cart are subsidiary at best. The result is not entirely satisfactory, however, as the low viewpoint means that the top line of the horses and the cart is confused with the horizon, and the panoramic format, associated with topographical subjects, appears at odds with the picturesque central motif. The problematic nature of the relationship between subject and setting centres on the figure of the ‘carter’, who bizarrely provided the old title for the work. What exactly is he doing bringing a horse harnessed to a cart, together with another, to the centre of a field, and what is the white horse eating? In contrast to the work of the artist’s contemporary John Constable (1776–1837), there is simply no logic to the actions he has depicted, and, however much Girtin may have in this case studied the appearance of a hay cart, it cannot disguise his lack of understanding of the rural economy.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a buff laid wrapping paper, made by an unknown English manufacturer (Bower, 2002, p.138; Bower, Report). Sadly, the work has faded, and the impurities in the low-grade paper have resulted in excessive spotting, which has also reduced the drawing’s impact.

1797 - 1798

Four Studies of a Cart


by Greg Smith

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