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Works Thomas Girtin

Chalfont House, from the North East, with Fishermen Netting the Broadwater

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1564: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Chalfont House, from the North East, with Fishermen Netting the Broadwater, (?) 1800, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 40.6 × 55.2 cm, 16 × 21 ¾ in. Private Collection, Herefordshire.

Photo courtesy of a Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: Busby (unknown dates), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), etching, 'Chalfont House, Bucks, the Seat of Thomas Hibbert Esqr' for The European Magazine, vol.61, p.185, 1 April 1812, 12.3 × 17.5 cm, 4 ⅞ × 6 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1875,0710.5239).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Chalfont House, from the North East, with Fishermen Netting the Broadwater
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
40.6 × 55.2 cm, 16 × 21 ¾ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Large Framed Work; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Buckinghamshire View; Country House View; The Landscape Park

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2002


Thomas Hibbert (1744–1819); then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 2002, no.145


Morris, 2002b, pp.62-63; Bucks Gardens Trust, 2016, pp.1–19

About this Work

This view of Chalfont House in Buckinghamshire is taken from the north east looking across the Broadwater. Girtin was commissioned by Thomas Hibbert (1744–1819) around 1800 to produce two views of his recently remodelled seat (the other being TG1565), together with another pair showing the newly built lodge on the estate (TG1561 and TG1563). The four watercolours, each measuring about 42 × 55 cm (16 ½ × 21 ½ in), were probably framed for display on the walls of Hibbert’s home, and collectively they represent, after Girtin’s work for Edward Lascelles (1764–1814), the artist’s most ambitious and innovative exercise in the tired genre of the country house portrait. 

William Angus (1752–1821), after William Tomkins (c.1730–92), engraving, 'Chalfont House in Buckinghamshire, the Seat of Thomas Hibbert Esqr.' for <i>Seats of the Nobility and Gentry</i>, vol.1, pl.34, 1 June 1793, 14.6 × 18.6 cm, 5 ¾ × 7 ⅜ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Hibbert, a wealthy merchant and landowner, bought the estate in 1791 after returning in 1780 from Jamaica, where he was a prominent slave-owner. The house had been remodelled in 1755 by the amateur architect John Chute (1701–76) for Charles Churchill (c.1720–1812) in the ‘Strawberry Hill’ Gothic style, and Horace Walpole (1717–97) himself advised on its gothicisation. An engraving, which appeared in William Angus’ (1752–1821) Seats of the Nobility and Gentry (see figure 1), shows a relatively plain structure that must have seemed old-fashioned by the 1790s (Angus, 1787–97), and around 1799 Hibbert commissioned John Nash (1752–1835) to remodel the house in a more picturesque idiom. The grounds, which earlier had been landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–83) and his assistant, were also remodelled at this time by Nash’s partner, Humphry Repton (1752–1818). Given all of this activity, it is not surprising that when the European Magazine used Girtin’s view to illustrate an article on Chalfont in 1812 (see the print after, above), the text claimed that the building ‘in its improved state’ illustrates the ‘progress of architectural taste’, adding that ‘from the picturesque embellishments with which it is surrounded, the progress of plantation’ is evident as well (European Magazine, vol.61, 1 April 1812, p.185). 

Comparing Girtin’s view from the north east with the 1793 engraving, it is possible to make out the extent of Nash’s alterations and additions. Leaving the main body of the house to the left untouched, Nash developed the central polygonal bay, topping it off with ornate finials and, more significantly, adding a monumental service wing in the form of a castellated gateway, defensive walls and corner towers, with a flamboyant clock tower behind. The landscape setting is equally a mix of styles and periods. The foreground is dominated by the Broadwater, which was created from Brown’s plans by damming the river Misbourne, and stretching into the distance is the park that he advised on. The area surrounding the house, however, was the specific focus of Repton’s attention; he created an informal, natural setting for the newly built castle wing, and the extensive shrubbery plantings were an important part of his plans. From this angle, the new elements of the structure are obscured by vegetation, and Girtin uses this to create the illusion that the building has grown organically over time. 

The foreground is enlivened by a group of fishermen, whose labour is being directed by a gentleman who is presumably Hibbert himself. A slight shadow to the left of the man shows that Girtin changed his mind over the position of the figure, and its original reflection is still visible in the water. An English gentleman commanding the physical labour of his estate workers carries a special resonance knowing that the source of Hibbert’s wealth lay in slave-ownership. For Girtin, though, the figure of Hibbert had a more general meaning. Placed in alignment with the newly built tower, Hibbert is the author of a fantasy castle that emerges from the landscape, the result of his imagination and of wealth that can command the labour of hundreds to transform nature itself.

(?) 1800

Chalfont House, from the North West


(?) 1800

The North Front of Chalfont Lodge, Seen from the Lake


(?) 1800

The South Front of Chalfont Lodge, Seen from across the Lawn


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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