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Works Thomas Girtin

An Overshot Mill

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1428: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), An Overshot Mill, 1798–99, watercolour on laid paper, 22.1 × 30 cm, 8 ¾ × 12 in. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery (FA100025).

Photo courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust, Brighton & Hove (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Overshot Mill
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Watercolour on laid paper
22.1 × 30 cm, 8 ¾ × 12 in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; Wind and Water Mills

An Overshot Mill (TG1427)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
258i as 'An Overshot Mill in Devon'; '1797–8'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in February 2020


J. Palser & Sons; bought from them by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.6321), 27 January 1908; sold to Alfred George Edward Godden (1850–1933), 23 March 1910, £30; bequeathed to the Gallery, 1933

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1910, no.116 as ’Pembury Mill, Kent’; Hove Museum, Loan Exhibition, 1928 (catalogue untraced)


Skilton, 1965, p.51; Winter, 1973–74, p.142 as by François Louis Thomas Francia

About this Work

This depiction of a picturesque thatched watermill is the less heavily worked of two versions of a composition that Girtin appears to have produced around 1798–99 (the other being TG1427). The work has been known as ‘Pembury Mill in Kent’, but the building in no way corresponds with that shown in a number of views of the mill by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (Victoria and Albert Museum, London (1160–1901)). A more credible alternative is that the other version was the watercolour exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 under the title ‘A mill in Devonshire’ and that the subject was therefore sketched on Girtin’s West Country tour in the previous year (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1798, no.677). However, neither watercolour includes any specific evidence of their location, and, as with many similar scenes that Girtin produced around 1798–99, the mill depicted here might just as easily have been the product of the artist’s imagination, made in response to the demand for picturesque compositions. Certainly, the watermill, and the simple ‘overshot wheel’ in particular, was said by Girtin’s contemporaries to be an ideal subject for a landscape artist, since it ‘is capable of affording picturesqueness to the most formal spot, and of augmenting it in the most romantic’ manner (Stoddart, 1801, vol.1, p.206). The pleasures derived from viewing mills were also deemed to go beyond ‘picturesque effect’ to include a wide range of pleasing associations, and it was this double function that presumably attracted collectors to this aspect of Girtin’s work (Williams, 1804, p.16). In this case, the artist conflates the image of the mill, as a symbol of nature harnessed to the service of humans, with a domestic scene of timeless tranquillity. People and nature are shown at one, labour is accomplished without strain, and the rural life is presented as one of sunny contentment.

Although the watercolour’s impact has been slightly impaired by fading, it was always a more reticent work than the similarly scaled version in the collection of Leeds Art Gallery, where the extensive use of white bodycolour and scratching out for the highlights helps to create a richer and more varied effect, in keeping with the way that the thick vegetation threatens to overwhelm the mill. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak consequently date this work to slightly earlier (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.169), but I am not so confident that we can make such small discriminations on the basis of stylistic evidence alone, and I suspect that the differences between the two versions reflect the fact that the artist simply invested less labour into this work, rather than that it was produced at a significantly different time. However, given that, unusually for Girtin, no pencil work can be detected amongst the watercolour washes, it may be that this drawing was indeed made subsequent to the Leeds version, where the artist first worked out the composition.

1798 - 1799

An Overshot Mill


by Greg Smith

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