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Works Thomas Girtin

Caernarfon Castle, from the East

(?) 1798

Primary Image: TG1308: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Caernarfon Castle, from the East, (?) 1798, graphite on paper, 13.3 × 22.3 cm, 5 ¼ × 8 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of a Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Caernarfon Castle, from the East
(?) 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite on paper
13.3 × 22.3 cm, 5 ¼ × 8 ¾ in

‘Caernarvon Castle by Thomas Girtin’ lower centre, probably by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales

Caernarfon Castle, from the East (TG1738)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
264 as 'Caernarvon Castle'
Description Source(s)
Witt Library Photograph


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); then by descent


The Studio, 1922, p.89

About this Work

This view of Caernarfon Castle, looking west towards the Queen’s Gate, was made on Girtin’s tour of North Wales in the summer of 1798 and was used as the basis for a studio watercolour dated 1800 (TG1738). In the drawing, Girtin rapidly recorded the outlines of the castle but, uncharacteristically for him, concentrated more attention on the vessels on the river Seiont, particularly on the ship under construction on the stocks, and these details are carefully replicated in the final composition. This view of the late thirteenth-century fortifications built for Edward I (1239–1307) had been the subject of countless depictions by artists, amateur and professional, by the time of Girtin’s visit, and so the boat-building scene under the shadow of the Queen’s Gate offered a different take on a scene that had perhaps grown too familiar. This is certainly the impression one gets from Girtin’s watercolour of the same view (TG1315) but taken from further away, which, though it shows the castle in a wider landscape, appears rather bland in contrast.

Caernarvon Castle, with the Eagle Tower from the East

Interest in this pencil sketch is enhanced by its close association with Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). The work was bought by Turner at the posthumous sale of their mutual patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), though, rather than coming to the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, it remained in the possession of the artist’s descendants. Other pencil drawings, including The Market Square at Aylesbury (TG0369a) and another Caernarfon scene, Caernarfon: A Street Scene with Plas Mawr (The Great House) (TG1313), were also bought from Monro, who clearly collected Girtin’s sketches in addition to commissioning watercolours from him. Although the prominent inscription and signature are not particularly characteristic of Girtin’s handwriting, I suspect that they may have been added by the artist himself when he sold the drawing to Monro. The view of Caernarfon was presumably included in a mixed lot in the 1833 sale, and Turner certainly would not have needed to buy it as a record of the subject, as his numerous views of the castle include two close variations on this scene (see figure 1 and TG1315 figure 1).1 The former was even sketched in the same year that Girtin visited the castle, for Turner’s 1798 tour also took him to North Wales, though he was probably in Caernarfon itself in August or early September – that is, a month or so later than his colleague – and the two artist do not appear to have met or sketched together.


Caernarfon Castle, from the East


1798 - 1799

Caernarfon Castle, from the River Seiont


1798 - 1799

The Market Square at Aylesbury


(?) 1798

Caernarfon: A Street Scene with Plas Mawr (The Great House)


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Another view of ‘Carnarvon Castle’ by Girtin was included in a sale from the Monro collection in 1806 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 10 May 1806, lot 80).

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