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Works Thomas Girtin

Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral: Outline Study for the Eidometropolis, Section Six

(?) 1801

Primary Image: TG1859: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral: Outline Study for the 'Eidometropolis', Section Six, (?) 1801, graphite, pen and ink and watercolour on wove paper, squared for transfer, 35.2 × 51 cm, 13 ⅞ × 20 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.26).

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral: Outline Study for the Eidometropolis, Section Six
Date
(?) 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite, pen and ink and watercolour on wove paper, squared for transfer
Dimensions
35.2 × 51 cm, 13 ⅞ × 20 ⅛ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing; Study for a Panorama
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; London and Environs; The River Thames

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG1859
Girtin & Loshak Number
227 as 'Girtin's Panorama of London (Eidometropolis): Sector III ... Working Drawing'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2016

Provenance

John Jackson (d.1828), almost certainly from his son-in-law, John Girtin (1773–1821); his posthumous sale, Foster's, 24 April 1828, lots 342–45 as 'unfinished Views of London'; bought by 'Colnaghi'; Henry Peter Standly (1782–1844); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 16 April 1845, lot 398, ‘coloured drawings, views of London, the drawings taken on the spot which afterward served to paint the large panorama’; bought by 'C. Hall' £5 15s; Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

London, 1985, no.82d; London, 1988a, no.35; London, 2002, no.156

Bibliography

Binyon, 1898–1907, no.34; Whitley, 1924, fig.5; Pragnell, 1968, p.19; Chu, 2003, p.187; Smith, 2018, pp.59–61

About this Work

This view of the north bank of the Thames, dominated by Blackfriars Bridge with St Paul’s Cathedral beyond, was made by Girtin in preparation for the painting of his 360-degree panorama of London, which opened to the public in August 1802 as the Eidometropolis. Sometime in 1801, Girtin took up a position at the river end of the roof of Albion Place Terrace (see TG1850 figure 1), from where he had an uninterrupted view of the city. Using a perspective frame as a guide, he made this, the sixth of seven detailed outline drawings that complete a full circuit. Six of these survive, each of which has a grid superimposed on it made up of squares that correspond to one square foot of the monumental circular canvas employed for the painted panorama (Smith, 2018, pp.45–46). The drawings were then passed over to the artist’s assistants, whose first task was to transfer Girtin’s outlines onto a canvas that, according to the advertisements taken out by the artist, measured ‘1944 square feet’ (about 180 square metres) – that is, 18 ft high (5.5 m) with a circumference of 108 ft (5.5 × 33 m) – taking care to modify the straight lines so that they did not appear bent on the circular surface. The function of the outline drawings was therefore quite different from anything else seen in Girtin’s output; they prioritised the recording of accurate topographical information for the use of others to create a template that could then be painted in oil to produce the deceptive effect of the final 360-degree view. Uniquely amongst the outlines, in this work Girtin added some monochrome washes that hint at the ‘impending storm’ noted by reviewers as marking the predominant character of this section, which must have made the untraced colour study a spectacular affair (Morning Herald, 6 December 1802).1

View of London, from Albion Place

It is clear from the reviews of the completed canvas that St Paul’s was one of the prime focal points of the Eidometropolis and that Girtin’s viewpoint to the south was well calculated to show off Sir Christopher Wren’s (1632–1723) architectural masterpiece. As one writer noted, the cathedral rose with the ‘most majestic dignity above all surrounding buildings’, and the ‘grandeur’ that Girtin promised in the advertisements for the spectacle was no doubt considerably enhanced by the storm effect he included (Monthly Magazine, October 1802, p.255).2 The building was regarded as a potent symbol of London and its miraculous regeneration after the Great Fire of 1666, and, with the building’s status as a monument to British steadfastness in mind, the Morning Herald characteristically welcomed the panorama in strident patriotic terms, claiming that ‘every Briton and lover of his country’ would stand ‘enraptured … in seeing his native place, the glory of the world, so finely and truly pourtrayed’ (Morning Herald, 6 December 1802). This sense of national pride was no doubt enhanced by the juxtaposition of the classical idiom of St Paul’s with that of Robert Mylne’s (1733–1811) Blackfriars Bridge, built between 1760 and 1769, and together the two structures epitomised the often repeated claims of London to be the new Rome. Crucially, the new imperial power was founded not on martial aggression but on the pursuit of trade. The ‘astonishing variety of objects’ that ‘characterise this great commercial City’, as the same reviewer put it, dominate this section, and, with the addition of the river traffic, which must have formed an important part of the final effect, London’s role as a commercial powerhouse found a powerful expression in Girtin’s design. In particular, the dynamic diagonal of the bridge itself, as it cuts into our space, creates a visual equivalent to the expanding city. Here it is tempting to see the influence of a slightly earlier view, also taken from Albion Place, by Nathaniel Black (unknown dates) and Joseph Charles Barrow (c.1759–1804) (see figure 1); their watercolour of Blackfriars Bridge appeared in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1798, and it may have inspired Girtin’s choice of viewpoint (Smith, 2018, pp.59–61). 

The support employed by Girtin for all of the pencil sketches for the panorama is a white wove drawing paper, which the paper historian Peter Bower has suggested was probably made by the Balston and Hollingworth Brothers Partnership at Turkey Mill, Maidstone, Kent (Smith, 2002b, p.203; Bower, Report).

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  1. 1 This highly informative review is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 - Item 5).
  2. 2 This highly informative review is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 – Item 3).

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