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Works (?) John Henderson

An Unidentified Village Street with a Church Tower in the Distance

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1760: (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), An Unidentified Village Street with a Church Tower in the Distance, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 15.8 × 26.3 cm, 6 ¼ × 10 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1863,0110.254).

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

(?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • An Unidentified Village Street with a Church Tower in the Distance
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
15.8 × 26.3 cm, 6 ¼ × 10 ⅜ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; The Village

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Henderson (1764–1843); then by descent to John Henderson II (1797–1878); presented to the Museum, 1863


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.27b; British Museum, Collection as by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This view of an unidentified village street has long been attributed to Girtin, though it was not included by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak in their catalogue of the artist’s watercolours (Girtin and Loshak, 1954). A note on a photograph of the work in a file titled ‘Weeds on the Wall’, a record of dubious attributions kept by the Girtin family, gives the reason for its omission. The work, Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) suggests, is by ‘Henderson probably after an out of doors sketch by Girtin’, referring to John Henderson (1764–1843), from whose collection it came (Girtin Archive, 14). The old attribution may have a number of details in its favour, including a palette that accords with Girtin’s work, the use of a low-grade wove cartridge paper and a composition that recalls A Village Scene (TG1918), which Girtin painted in 1802, but the case for it being by the amateur artist and patron is nonetheless much stronger. However, I suspect that rather than Henderson having copied an untraced work by the professional artist, this is just a case of him working in Girtin’s style on a subject that coincidentally shared features with some of the artist’s later works. The watercolour is by no means a disgrace for an amateur artist, but the failure to differentiate between the buildings, so that they are just patches of colour with no structure or depth, compounded by a poorly delineated tree and a lack of animation in the figures, indicates that it is not by Girtin. What clinches the attribution to Henderson is a comparison with another watercolour on the same mount, Flint Castle (see TG1363 figure 1), which copies a composition by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). Here the strongest features of the village view, including the fluid treatment of the clouds and the broad foreground in the same range of tones that might suggest a work by Girtin, are repeated in a watercolour that must be by Henderson as it was copied from a work that was published a decade after the death of the professional artist.


A Village Scene


by Greg Smith

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