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Works (?) Samuel William Reynolds after Thomas Girtin

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea

1800 - 1805

Primary Image: TG1741: (?) Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea, 1800–05, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 31 × 51.1 cm, 12 ¼ × 20 ⅛ in. Private Collection, Norfolk (I-E-31).

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
(?) Samuel William Reynolds (1773-1835) after Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea
Date
1800 - 1805
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
Dimensions
31 × 51.1 cm, 12 ¼ × 20 ⅛ in
Inscription

‘Mr. Ambrose Johns / Plymouth’ on the back of the mount, in a later hand; ‘S.R.’ on the back of the mount, in a later hand

Object Type
Copy after Thomas Girtin
Subject Terms
London and Environs; River Scenery; The River Thames; Wind and Water Mills

Collection
Versions
Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (TG1525)
Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (TG1601)
Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea) (TG1740)
Catalogue Number
TG1741
Girtin & Loshak Number
337iii as 'The White House at Chelsea ... a much less inspired replica of' TG1525; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001

Provenance

Ambrose Bowden Johns (1776–1858); ... William Bell Scott (1811–90); his posthumous sale, Sotheby's, 14 July 1892, lot 197 as 'Chelsea Reach', £17 10s; Charles Fairfax Murray (1849–1919); bought from him by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.7618), 5 February 1912; bought by Sir Hickman Bacon (1855–1945), 20 February 1912, £215; then by descent

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1912, no.28 as ’The White House, Chelsea Reach’; Agnew’s, (?) 1927, no.28; London, 1946, no.92; Arts Council, 1946, no.77; Boston, 1948, no.138; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.84; King's Lynn, 1967, no.44; Manchester, 1975, no.61 as ’The White House, Chelsea’; Hove, 1993, no.21 as ’The White House’

Bibliography

Oppé, 1946b, pp.127–28; Mayne, 1949, p.106; Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, p.13, p.20; Gage, 1969, p.98; Hawcroft, 1975, p.16; Kitson, 1975, p.257; Smiles and Pidgley, 1995, p.116; Wilcox, 2012, pp.12–13 as by a 'Follower of Thomas Girtin'; Cumming, 2015, pp.185–87; described in the Tax-Exempt Heritage Assets list as 'Attributed to Thomas Girtin: The White House, Chelsea' (Accessed 19/09/2022)

About this Work

The attribution of this version of Girtin’s most famous composition, the erroneously titled The White House at Chelsea (TG1740), has long been the subject of comment. Thus, although the watercolour was heralded by some on its first appearance at an exhibition in 1912 as an autograph work, and thus the original source of a famous anecdote about Joseph Mallord William Turner’s (1775–1851) appreciation of Girtin’s genius, others disagreed, leading to a lengthy debate in the press about which was the ‘original’ or ‘authentic’ drawing (The Times, 22 February 1912; The Observer, 24 March 1912; The Illustrated London News, 30 March 1912). The argument was taken up again in 1934 when its owner, Sir Hickman Bacon (1855–1945), invited Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) to compare the two works, having left his version at the National Gallery for the purpose (Girtin Archive, 26). Bacon not surprisingly preferred his own watercolour, but he was not able to persuade the artist’s descendant, who, in a note dated 1942, stated that it was probably a copy made by the engraver Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835) (Girtin Archive, 27). And prompted by such speculation, Francis Hawcroft, in turn, borrowed both works for the 1975 Girtin exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester so that they could ‘be carefully studied side by side’ to test Thomas Girtin and David Loshak’s slightly watered-down view, that this is a ‘much less inspired replica’ by Girtin (Hawcroft, 1975, p.16). Michael Kitson, in his review of the exhibition, took up the challenge and concluded that the work was a ‘copy by another hand’. Though this has generally been the accepted view since, nobody has specifically discussed this work in relation to Reynolds, and the old misattribution still occasionally resurfaces (Kitson, 1975, p.257, Wilcox, 1993, pp.58–59).

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea

The attribution to Reynolds of this version of Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea, as the composition should be known, is supported by two crucial facts. Firstly, we now know that Reynolds acquired a stock of newly painted watercolours from Girtin in 1800–1801 and that he was seeking purchasers for them at the end of 1801, acting as Girtin’s representative in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. The authentic version of the work, now at Tate Britain, was almost certainly in Reynolds’ possession in 1800, so he crucially had the opportunity to make a direct copy rather than depending on the later mezzotint produced by Thomas Lupton (1791–1873) (see the second print after TG1740). Secondly, Reynolds produced his own mezzotint of the composition (see the first print after TG1740), titled Chelsea Reach and dated 24 April 1823, but probably worked much earlier, and this gives him a logical reason for copying Girtin’s watercolour: namely, to produce a model from which he could make his own print whilst endeavouring to sell the original, in which case the initials ‘SR’, recorded on the back of the drawing, could be an admission of his authorship. However, the copyist used the same type of coarse cartridge paper employed by Girtin and worked on the same scale, neither of which details are commensurate with an engraver’s copy, and a less charitable view would have it that Reynolds produced a commodity that was calculated to deceive collectors. The attribution to Reynolds and the suspicion that his motives were less than honourable are supported by the existence of a sizeable group of his full-scale copies of Girtin’s compositions that were all reproduced by him as mezzotints, including Rainbow: A Scene on the River Exe (see the second print after TG1730), all of which were made after the original watercolours and not, as has generally been suspected, from the later prints. As in Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea, a mechanical, slightly harder touch is one of the only telltale signs of a copyist whose competence as an artist, combined with his close working relationship with Girtin, otherwise ensured that he got many of the technical details right, and consequently caused problems not associated with other poorer copies (see figure 1).

1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea)

TG1740

1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea)

TG1740

1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea)

TG1740

1800

A Rainbow over the River Exe

TG1730

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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