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Works Thomas Girtin

Berry Pomeroy Castle

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1270: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Berry Pomeroy Castle, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on an original mount, 27.8 × 39 cm, 11 × 15 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of a Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Berry Pomeroy Castle
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on an original mount
27.8 × 39 cm, 11 × 15 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

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

Berry Pomeroy Castle (TG1269)
Berry Pomeroy Castle (TG1271)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2013


'A west country family' from c.1850; Sotheby’s, 14 July 1994, lot 116, £63,100; Esmé Valerie Eliot (1926-2012); her posthumous sale, Christie's, 20 November 2013, lot 273, £80,500

Exhibition History

(?) Royal Academy, London, 1798, no.343; London, 2002, no.59


Farthing, 2006, p.345

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 the most significant outcomes of Girtin’s tour of the West Country in the autumn of 1797. The drawing on which it was based has not been traced, but there is no doubt that the artist sketched the scene during the trip on a short detour from the road that took him from Teignmouth to Totnes. The work is not dated, but we can be reasonably sure that it was produced soon after the tour because it appears to have been the ‘Berry Pomeroy Castle’ that Girtin sent to the exhibition of the Royal Academy (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1798, no.343). Until the discovery of this work in 1994, it was assumed that a slightly different, smaller version of the composition (TG1269) was the exhibited work. However, this altogether more impressively worked and thematically rich watercolour, which has survived in its original washline mount, would appear to be one of four West Country views that the artist exhibited in the year after his tour. Girtin’s exhibits were not marked as being for sale and the likelihood is that a work such as this was commissioned, if not before the tour, then in its immediate aftermath, though sadly nothing about the work’s early provenance is known and we cannot know whether the artist was directed to Berry Pomeroy at the behest of a patron.


The West Country may not have seen the bloody struggles associated with North Wales and the Scottish Borders, but there were a number of boldly situated castles that attracted tourists in the late eighteenth century. The particular appeal of Berry Pomeroy stemmed from its situation, ‘shut into a beautiful valley’, and this evoked powerful associations for visitors (Maton, 1797, p.112). The ‘deep gloom of the overhanging wood, which encircles several majestic towers cloathed with ivy’, wrote Henry Skrine (1755–1803), ‘inspires that kind of awful dignity which seems suited to the most romantic period of our antient history’ (Skrine, 1801, p.270). Taking his cue from the setting of the ruins above the narrow, wooded valley of the Gatcombe Brook, Girtin’s composition evokes these qualities in two specific ways. Firstly, it includes a prominent dead tree that points up to the castle, providing a natural corollary of loss to the ruined building. Secondly, it has a group of weeping willows on the far bank. The form of the tree, which was associated with grief, reinforces the melancholic mood of a scene of ruin, as does the solitary figure, who is all but hidden in the gloomy shade to the right. All of these features recall the celebrated composition of Richard Wilson (1713/14–82), Solitude (see figure 1), a work that, presumably in the form of the engraving, appears to have influenced a number of Girtin’s compositions (such as TG1096 and TG1553).

1798 - 1799

Berry Pomeroy Castle



Warkworth Hermitage


1800 - 1801

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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