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Works Thomas Girtin

Berry Pomeroy Castle

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1269: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Berry Pomeroy Castle, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 25.5 × 35 cm, 10 × 13 ¾ in. Private Collection, Norfolk (I-E-20).

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Berry Pomeroy Castle
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
25.5 × 35 cm, 10 × 13 ¾ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost); ‘Berry Pomeroy Castle, Devon / T Girtin’ on the back, in a later hand

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; River Scenery; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Berry Pomeroy Castle (TG1270)
Berry Pomeroy Castle (TG1271)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
242ii as '1797-8'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and April 2022


Margaret Stern (d.1908); her posthumous sale, Christie's, 19 June 1908, lot 25 as 'River Scene'; bought by 'Palser', £17 17s; J. Palser & Sons (stock no.16514); bought by Sir Hickman Bacon (1855–1945), 18 November 1909, 25 gns; then by descent

About this Work

This view of the sixteenth-century home of the Seymour family, which was built within the ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle in Devon, is one of two versions of a composition that Girtin gathered on his tour of the West Country in the autumn of 1797 (the other being TG1270). The drawing on which it is based has not been traced, but the artist would have needed to make only a short detour from his known itinerary between Teignmouth and Totnes to make a sketch of the scene. One of the two versions of the composition was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 as ‘Berry Pomeroy Castle’, and it seems that it was the slightly larger work that Girtin chose to send in as one of four West Country scenes that had resulted from the tour the year earlier (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1798, no.343). This version has lost some of its impact due to fading, but, in terms of both its size and its thematic content, it is in any case noticeably less ambitious than the more probable candidate for the exhibition work. In particular, minor differences such as the exclusion of both the dead tree pointing to the castle ruins and the distant weeping willows means that it works less well as a meditation on the themes of melancholy and retirement than the larger version, with its evident debt to the celebrated composition of Richard Wilson (1713/14–82), Solitude (see TG1270 figure 1). Nonetheless, Girtin was still able to replicate the specific attraction that the ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle had for contemporary tourists, namely their picturesque setting above the narrow, wooded valley of the Gatcombe Brook. As one such visitor noted in 1801, the ‘deep gloom of the overhanging wood, which encircles several majestic towers cloathed with ivy, inspires that kind of awful dignity which seems suited to the most romantic period of our antient history’ (Skrine, 1801, p.270). Something of the ‘awful dignity’ is evoked by the arboreal gloom with which Girtin envelops the scene, and the associated sense of loss is further enhanced by the way that the trees seem poised to envelop the ivy-clad ruins and return them to their natural state.

In contrast to the exhibited version, which has retained its original washline mount, this view of Berry Pomeroy Castle has not had its characteristic method of display preserved. We can be sure that it too was mounted in the same way because Girtin’s signature is missing its lower element. This does not mean that the drawing was cut at some point, rather that Girtin’s name once strayed onto a mount that was removed as fashions in the display of watercolours changed, taking with it part of the signature. It does not necessarily follow from the fact that the larger watercolour was exhibited in 1798 that this work was destined for the portfolio since the washline mount could equally act as a frame within a frame for glazed works and as protection against clumsy handling. Indeed, the faded state of this watercolour, which I take to be the slightly later version, may suggest that it was subsequently framed up for display whilst, conversely, the fine condition of the 1798 exhibit indicates that it may have benefitted from the protection of the portfolio for much of its history.

1797 - 1798

Berry Pomeroy Castle


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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