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Works Thomas Girtin

Buildings by a Road, with Passing Figures

1802

Primary Image: TG1917: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), Buildings by a Road, with Passing Figures, 1802, graphite and watercolour on paper, 14 × 29.9 cm, 5 ½ × 11 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • Buildings by a Road, with Passing Figures
Date
1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
14 × 29.9 cm, 5 ½ × 11 ¾ in
Inscription

‘Girtin – 1802. Paris’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin (the inscription has been partially cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Panoramic Format; Picturesque Vernacular; Unidentified Landscape

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG1917
Description Source(s)
Girtin Archive Photograph

Provenance

Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74), by 1852; then by descent to George Wyndham Girtin (1836–1912) (lent to London, 1871; London, 1875); by a settlement to his sister, Julia Hog Cooper (1839–84); her posthumous sale, Davis, Castleton, Sherborne, 2 December 1884, lot 47 as '"A View near Paris"'; Revd Stopford Brooke (1832–1916); then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 1871, no.183 as ’Landscape. Mill in the Environs of Paris’; London, 1875, no.79 as 'Environs of Paris'

About this Work

This work has been known as ‘A View, near Paris’, no doubt on the basis of the prominent inscription to the right of the extended view: ‘Girtin 1802 – Paris’. However, the artist inscribed three watercolours after landscape etchings by Herman van Swanevelt (1603–55) in the same way (such as TG1914), so ‘Paris’ must refer to where it was painted, rather than identifying the subject. The drawing almost certainly formed a pair with A Village Scene (TG1918), which corresponds in size, adopts a similar panoramic view with a comparable cropping of the subject, and is inscribed in the same way. In comparison with that work, the figures here are arguably less British in appearance, but one must still be very cautious when titling either subject as French. Thus, not only may both works be after prints – as, like the drawings after Swanevelt, they similarly adopt an unusually bright palette – but also if Girtin took sketches with him to France, they could equally represent English scenes, such as views of the great tithe barn at Abbotsbury, which the artist produced many times during his career (including TG0146 and TG1428). The latter suggestion is supported by Girtin’s complaint to Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809) about the lack of suitably picturesque landscapes in France (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, p.492); indeed, it is not out of the question that the artist even invented the scenes to make just this point.1 This, in turn, may account for the uncharacteristic employment of a panoramic format for the type of picturesque subject that elsewhere Girtin consistently treated using a more traditional compressed format, as in Turver’s Farm, Wimbish (TG1414). 

There is no evidence that Girtin found any French patrons during his stay in Paris, and any watercolours he produced there were almost certainly destined for the English market. The actor Joseph Munden (1758–1832), who acquired watercolours from Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) as well as Girtin, recalled that the latter had ‘sent him over from Paris, by Holcroft, one of the last of his productions’, though the identity of the work has not been established (Munden, 1844, p.57). It would be ironic if it was an English scene that made the journey, and the inscription of the drawing with its place of production would certainly make more sense if it was destined for the home market. 

1801

A River Scene with a Castle on a Cliff

TG1914

1802

A Village Scene

TG1918

1792 - 1793

The Tithe Barn at Abbotsbury, with St Catherine’s Chapel on the Hill

TG0146

1798 - 1799

An Overshot Mill

TG1428

(?) 1799

Turver’s Farm, Wimbish

TG1414

by Greg Smith

Footnotes

  1. 1 Holcroft’s unique eye-witness account of Girtin at work during the excursions they undertook in and around Paris in the early spring of 1802, published in the second volume of Travels from Hamburg, through Westphalia, Holland, and the Netherlands, to Paris, is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 – Item 1).

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