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Works Thomas Girtin

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (page 11 of the Whitworth Book of Drawings)

(?) 1801

Primary Image: TG1601: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea, (?) 1801, graphite on wove paper (watermark: W ELGAR / 1801), 14.6 × 21.7 cm, 5 ¾ × 8 ½ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1977.15.11).

Photo courtesy of The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Photo by Michael Pollard (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (page 11 of the Whitworth Book of Drawings)
(?) 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper (watermark: W ELGAR / 1801)
14.6 × 21.7 cm, 5 ¾ × 8 ½ in

‘Battersea Reach’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin; ‘22’ lower left

Part of
Object Type
Outline Drawing; Replica by Girtin
Subject Terms
London and Environs; River Scenery; The River Thames; Wind and Water Mills

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (TG1525)
Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea) (TG1740)
Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (TG1741)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
337i as 'The White House at Chelsea'; '1799–1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2022


Sale at Platt Vicarage, Rusholme, Manchester, 1898; sketchbook bought by 'Shepherd'; then by descent to F. W. Shepherd; his sale, Sotheby’s, 7 July 1977, lot 46; bought by Baskett and Day; bought by the Gallery, 1977


Hardie, 1934, p.7; Hardie, 1938–39, no.2, pp.91–92 as 'Battersea Reach'; Mayne, 1949, p.55; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.39–40, p.70; Smith, 2002b, p.114

About this Work

There are many mysteries regarding the make-up, use and function of the Whitworth Book of Drawings (TG1323, TG1324 and TG1600–1625), where this view of Chelsea Reach, looking towards Battersea, is to be found on page eleven, and this sketch, at first sight, appears to be one of the most intractable. Thus, although it has been described as the source for Girtin’s most famous watercolour, the grievously mistitled The White House at Chelsea (TG1740), the drawing is actually on a paper with an ‘1801’ watermark, whilst the finished studio work is dated 1800. However, although Martin Hardie in his article ‘A Sketch-Book of Thomas Girtin’ may have argued that ‘a paper-maker supplied’ the artist with ‘some advance sheets of a paper which he was maturing for 1801’, the paper historian Peter Bower has argued that this was not the practice of manufacturers at this date (Hardie, 1938–39, p.89; Bower, Report). There is, in fact, a much simpler and more interesting explanation for the seeming anomaly. Another page from the book, showing a view of Middleham in Yorkshire (TG1620), which is also on paper with an ‘1801’ watermark, provides the key to understanding the process at work here, since that drawing is clearly a copy of an earlier sketch of the scene that is dated 1799 (TG1508). In this case another slightly smaller view of Chelsea Reach has survived, which is also erroneously inscribed ‘Battersea Reach’ (TG1525), and, as with the Middleham view, it seems that the 1801 view in the Book of Drawings is again simply a copy that probably postdates its model by a couple of years.

In order to understand what is going on here, we need to consider the curious hybrid nature of a book of drawings that I have very carefully not termed a sketchbook. One of the keys here is the role that it played in supplying the market for the artist’s studies, since it appears that Girtin used it as a source from which to sell his on-the-spot sketches as some sixteen pages have been detached, with some of the sales recorded with inscriptions such as ‘Rippon Minster cold on the spot Sold to … 8.8.0’ (p.39v), presumably added by the artist himself. Could it therefore be that the original drawing of Chelsea Reach found a buyer and that Girtin made his copy to record a composition that he would otherwise have lost? The complex make-up of the book suggests another option, however, since, as Bower has again argued, although it initially took the form of a gathering of a number of different papers by Girtin, extra sheets were bound in after the artist’s death  - the end papers have a '1803' watermark – to create the mix of copies as well as sketches made from life at different times that we see today (Bower, 2002, p.141). This, I suspect, was done at the behest of the artist’s brother John Girtin (1773–1821) who appropriated material from the artist’s studio after his death including ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’, a combination that accords with the unusual makeup of the book (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 The position of the London view prior to two Welsh views, both probably copies of drawings from 1798 (TG1323 and TG1324), and after a detached page worked on the spot in 1800, exemplifies the mix of material that was the outcome of the binding process. Prior to this rearrangement, Girtin’s own gathering of sheets still performed a range of functions, being both a working tool for the artist and a collection of models from which patrons might commission works, and for someone who spent increasing amounts of time away from home, including a six-month sojourn in Paris in 1801–2, this may have been its most important function. In the case of this sketch, however, no second version of Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea was ever commissioned, and a watercolour of this composition (TG1741), which is still sometimes said to by Girtin, appears to be a copy by Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835).


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


(?) 1801

Middleham Village, with the Castle Beyond



Middleham Village, with the Castle Beyond


1799 - 1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea


1800 - 1801

Mountain Scenery, Said to Be near Beddgelert


1800 - 1801

The Valley of the Glaslyn, near Beddgelert


1800 - 1805

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Details are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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