For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

Caernarfon Castle, from the East


Primary Image: TG1738: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), Caernarfon Castle, from the East, 1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 30.5 × 51 cm, 12 × 20 ⅛ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Private Collection

Print after: William Woolnoth (c.1780–1837), after Henry Gastineau (1791–1876) 'after a sketch by T. Girton', engraving (proof), 'Caernarvon Castle, Caernarvonshire' for The Ancient Castles of England and Wales, 1825, 10.2 × 14.5 cm, 4 × 5 ¾ in. The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Photo courtesy of The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Caernarfon Castle, from the East
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
30.5 × 51 cm, 12 × 20 ⅛ in

‘Girtin - 1800’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales

Caernarfon Castle, from the East (TG1308)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Robert Prince; then by descent to Robin C. Hope; his sale, Christie’s, 4 March 1975, lot 106; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, 5,800 gns; private collection, London

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1975, no.58; London, 2002, not in the catalogue

About this Work

Caernarfon Castle

This watercolour, showing Caernarfon Castle looking west towards the Queen’s Gate, was executed from a pencil sketch that Girtin made on his tour of North Wales in the summer of 1798 (TG1308). The drawing rapidly records the outlines of the castle but, uncharacteristically for Girtin, it also concentrates on the foreground and the vessels on the river Seiont, particularly the ship under construction on the stocks, and these details are carefully replicated in the watercolour, which is dated 1800. The view of the late thirteenth-century fortifications from the east had been the subject of numerous depictions by artists, both amateur and professional, by the time of Girtin’s visit, including his colleague and contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (see figure 1), and the boat-building scene shown under the shadow of the Queen’s Gate therefore offered a different take on a prospect that had perhaps grown too familiar. This is certainly the impression one gets from Girtin’s earlier watercolour of the same view from further away (TG1315), which, though it shows the castle in a wider landscape, appears rather bland in contrast. In fact, both views pale in significance compared with Turner’s Caernarfon Castle, which appeared at the previous year’s exhibition at the Royal Academy (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1799, no.340). In general, Girtin seems to have taken care in his later years not to paint subjects associated with his great rival, but in this case it would have been impossible for contemporaries not to have compared the very different outcomes of their similar on-the-spot sketches (TG1308 and TG1308 figure 1). In contrast to Turner’s large-scale exhibition piece, with its conscious echoes of the port scenes of Claude Lorrain (1604/5–82), Girtin produced something altogether more down to earth that could only have competed in terms of price.

It is possible that Girtin painted another version of the composition, since an engraving dating from 1825 (see the print after, above) includes a number of differences from this watercolour, including a slightly expanded foreground with extra figures, and the addition of more vessels to the extended view to the left. This may have been a case of the engraver seeking to add interest to the composition, but the print is noted as being ‘after a sketch’, and it may therefore be that another on-the-spot colour drawing awaits discovery.

It is not known when the watercolour’s first owner, Robert Prince (unknown dates), acquired it, but he is said to have been a pupil and friend of Girtin, and it may be that he bought it directly from the artist himself. Nothing is known about Prince other than that he made copies after other works by Girtin, including The Ouse Bridge, York (30 × 50 cm, 11 ¾ × 19 ⅝ in) and Ripon Minster (26 × 41.5 cm, 10 ¼ × 16 ⅜ in), the latter of which is signed and dated 1801 (sold at Lawrence Fine Art Auctioneers, 25 May 2000, lots 395a and 395b, not illustrated). However, given that this work conforms to the larger of the two standard sizes of watercolours that Girtin supplied to Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer, and that it is dated 1800, the first year of their working relationship, it is possible that Prince acquired the work from that source, and the views of York and Ripon that he copied may also have come from Reynolds’ stock.

Given the generally poor condition of so many of Girtin’s late works, it is a relief to record the good state of this watercolour. It is clear from such examples that, though some of the fading of the later works is down to the deleterious effects of their having been displayed in bright light, their condition is more down to the artist’s choice of pigments. In this case, the employment of a blue other than the all-too-fugitive indigo has ensured that the sky has retained much of its original freshness.



(?) 1798

Caernarfon Castle, from the East


1798 - 1799

Caernarfon Castle, from the River Seiont


(?) 1798

Caernarfon Castle, from the East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.