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Works Thomas Girtin

An Unidentified House in an Open Landscape

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1559: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), An Unidentified House in an Open Landscape, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on paper, 21 × 35.5 cm, 8 ¼ × 14 in. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart. Morton Allport Memorial Bequest, 1961 (AG522).

Photo courtesy of Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Morton Allport Memorial Bequest, 1961 (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Unidentified House in an Open Landscape
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
21 × 35.5 cm, 8 ¼ × 14 in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
The Smaller House and Garden; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
298 as 'Unidentified Country House'
Description Source(s)
Colour Photograph


Adrian Bury (1891–1991); P. J. Westwood; Spink & Son Ltd, London, 1960; presented by the Trustees of the Morton Allport Memorial Bequest, 1961


Morris, 1985, pp.41–45

About this Work

This watercolour is one of a pair of views of a small country house or lodge that has not yet been identified; the other, showing the building from the same direction, is seen from much closer to in the midst of its garden (TG1560). As Susan Morris has suggested, the building bears a distinct resemblance to the work of John Nash (1752–1835), and the entrance porch to the right recalls the similar feature in Girtin’s view of the south front of Chalfont Lodge (TG1562), which was designed by the highly successful architect around 1800 (Morris, 1985, p.44). The central bow front, with extensive fenestration designed to look out over the view, is another common feature of Nash’s designs for small country houses and lodges, which, as at Chalfont, complement the main mansion and provide a suitable picturesque eye-catcher for the estate. Nash’s design for Hollycombe in West Sussex (see TG1560 figure 1) employs many of the same vernacular elements that commonly feature in the picturesque estate buildings that were designed to accompany the informal landscape designs of Nash’s collaborator, Humphry Repton (1752–1818), at this date. In this case, the building’s pronounced asymmetry, more visible here in the distant view, helps to create the illusion that the new building grew up haphazardly over the centuries, as an integral part of the landscape. 

Morris dated the work to 1797 on stylistic grounds, and she speculated that it may have been sketched on Girtin’s trip to the West Country in that year as preparation for a commission from the house’s owner. This is not impossible, though I would take issue with the early date and, indeed, I have a growing suspicion that the reason that we have not been able to identify the house is that it was not actually built. In other words, Girtin may have been employed not by the owner of the house but its designer, and his task may have been to imagine how the building might look in its landscape setting. New evidence may turn up to make a mockery of this suggestion, but in the meantime I will continue to suspect that what we are looking at here is not a simple depiction of a building but the view from an existing house with the imagined addition of a building that only ever existed on paper. Girtin, like the great master of the art, Joseph Michael Gandy (1771–1843), was more than capable of bringing to his views ‘an acute naturalistic observation’ of light and weather that Morris stresses is a feature of these works, but this is arguably not enough to obscure the fact that Girtin’s commission in this case did not fully engage his sympathies (Morris, 1985, p.42).

1798 - 1800

An Unidentified Small Country House or Lodge


(?) 1800

The South Front of Chalfont Lodge, Seen from across the Lawn


by Greg Smith

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