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Works Thomas Girtin

Buildwas Bridge

(?) 1800

Print after: Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), mezzotint, 'Buildwas Bridge', 1822/23, published belatedly in Liber Naturae or A Collection of Prints from the Drawings of Thomas Girtin, pl.14, London, 1883, 15 × 23 cm, 5 ⅞ × 9 in. British Museum, London (1893,0612.82.15).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Buildwas Bridge
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Watercolour on paper
31.4 × 45.7 cm, 12 ⅜ × 18 in

‘Buildwas Bridge Colebrook Dale Girtin’ on the back

Part of
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Shropshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
366 as 'Buildwas Bridge, Shropshire'
Description Source(s)
The original known only from the print


Thos. Agnew & Sons; bought by Joshua Sing; then by descent to Col. Laurence Millington Synge (1887–1962) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954)

About this Work

Buildwas Bridge

This view of part of the old stone bridge that crossed the river Severn close to the ruins of Buildwas Abbey was included by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak in their catalogue of Girtin’s watercolours, though the work has not been seen in public since, and, given that there is no known photograph, it is not possible to confirm the attribution (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.184). However, the watercolour was reproduced as a mezzotint by Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835) (see the print after, above, Neill & Son, 1883), and, though the print is known only as Unidentified Cottage and Bridge with Hills, the scene can be recognised as Buildwas by comparing it with a view of the partly ruined structure by Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), which includes the abbey in the background (see figure 1). Girtin’s missing drawing omitted not only the abbey but also a large part of the bridge, which, as can be seen in Sandby’s undated view, was itself partly ruined. The bridge was first damaged in 1773 and was finally swept away in floods early in 1795; in turn, it was replaced by a single-span iron bridge designed by Thomas Telford (1757–1834) and opened in 1796 (Engineering Timelines, 2020). It is possible that Girtin visited the site, perhaps on his trip to or from Wales in the summer of 1798, and that the fragment of the bridge shown in the watercolour and print was all that survived of the original structure, but it is much more likely that, as with the earlier view of Buildwas Abbey (TG0136), the artist worked from a secondary source. Moreover, given the similarity with the left side of Sandby’s view, Girtin’s watercolour may even have been based on a sketch by this artist, whose work he would have known well from the collection of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) and who was to become his neighbour at St George’s Row, Tyburn, in 1801.

Girtin and Loshak date the missing watercolour to 1800, but, even though we have no access to an image of the work, there is some evidence to suggest that, even though it was not made from the artist’s own on-the-spot sketch, it was indeed produced later in his career. In particular, the fact that Reynolds engraved a mezzotint from the watercolour suggests that he received the latter in his capacity as Girtin’s representative around 1800–1801. The mezzotint was not actually published until 1883, long after Reynolds’ death, but, though the prints are generally dated to 1823–24, it is probable that he at least began work on the plates during the artist’s lifetime. Thus, the same document that records that in October 1801 Reynolds owned a stock of Girtin’s works to the value of £178 10s, comprising ‘19 large size’ and ‘10 smaller’ watercolours, also noted that Reynolds had ‘Plates from drawings by Girtin’ to the value of £60 (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1 The evidence is not overwhelming, but it seems likely that the watercolour of Buildwas Bridge was one of the smaller commodities supplied to Reynolds around 1800 and that, in producing it for his agent, Girtin turned to a copy from another source that he had made earlier.

1792 - 1793

Buildwas Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The details are contained in a letter from Reynolds to Sawrey Gilpin (1733–1807). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4).

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