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Works Thomas Girtin

An Unidentified Landscape, Possibly a West-Country Tor

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1295: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), An Unidentified Landscape, Possibly a West-Country Tor, 1798–99, watercolour on laid paper, 7 × 24.1 cm, 2 ¾ × 9 ½ in. Tate (T00994).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Unidentified Landscape, Possibly a West-Country Tor
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Watercolour on laid paper
7 × 24.1 cm, 2 ¾ × 9 ½ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
The West Country: Devon and Dorset; Unidentified View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
405 as 'Unidentified Landscape'; 'Possibly a fragment from a larger drawing'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


J. Palser & Sons as ‘Hilly Landscape, Ruined Castle’; sold to Herbert Powell (1863–1950) 29 September 1917; entrusted to the National Art-Collections Fund, 1929; presented to the Tate Gallery, 1967

Exhibition History

National Art-Collections Fund Tour, 1947-, no.65; London, 2002, no.114


Hughes, 1931, no.65

About this Work

This unidentified and highly unconventional view may show a coastal scene as there is an area of blue to the left that might represent the sea, but, equally, it could depict an inland view of a rocky outcrop. The former option gains some credence from a similar disconnection between the near and distant views seen in the unidentified A Cliff-Top View (TG1239), which is thought to represent a scene on the coast of Dorset. Moreover, the extended proportions of this unidentified landscape resemble some of the experiments in the panoramic mode that Girtin undertook on and following his West Country tour of 1797 (such as TG1293), and this, rather than the suggestion by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak that the watercolour is a ‘fragment from a larger drawing’, is likely to be the reason for its unusual format (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.190). If this is not a coastal view, then perhaps we should look to one of the many tors that are a characteristic feature of the countryside of Devon and Dorset. Girtin’s landscape, which is spotted with figures who appear to have ascended the hill to take in the view, does indeed fit the description of a tor, which has been defined as a free-standing rock outcrop that rises from the smooth slopes of a hill summit or crest. The closest example to this view that I have been able to find is Hay Tor on Dartmoor, but there is no evidence that Girtin passed nearby, and it is unlikely that he made a significant detour, not least because such a small and unconventional work would not have been made on commission. Until a positive identification is forthcoming, and I suspect something will ring a bell with users of this catalogue, the best I can offer is that the watercolour is in all probability based on a drawing made in the course of Girtin’s 1797 trip and that he later realised the sketch as a small studio composition that has much of the appearance of having been worked on the spot. If this was the case, the extreme proportions of the view are Girtin’s way of suggesting to the viewer that the work was the outcome of the artist’s encounter with a scene that could not be fitted into traditional landscape conventions.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid writing paper by an unknown English manufacturer, worked on the wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture (Smith, 2002b, p.151; Bower, Report).

1797 - 1798

A Cliff-Top View, Probably on the Coast of Dorset


1798 - 1799

An Unidentified Estuary, Probably in the West Country


by Greg Smith

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