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Works Thomas Girtin after Sir George Howland Beaumont

Colwith Force, on the River Brathay

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1583: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753–1827), Colwith Force, on the River Brathay, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on paper, 21 × 28 cm, 8 ¼ × 11 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753–1827), Culloth Force, from the Environs of Keswick Album, 6 September 1798, graphite and watercolour on paper, 13.5 × 19.8 cm, 5 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 7 ¾ in. Wordsworth Grasmere (GRMDC.B376.81).

Photo courtesy of The Wordsworth Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753-1827)
Title
  • Colwith Force, on the River Brathay
Date
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
21 × 28 cm, 8 ¼ × 11 in
Object Type
Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; The Lake District; Waterfall Scenery

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG1583
Girtin & Loshak Number
315 as 'Culloth Force, Cumberland'; 'c. 1799'
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue

Provenance

Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827); then by descent to Sir George Howland Francis Beaumont, 12th Baronet (1924–2011), 1949; P & D Colnaghi Ltd; bought by Ray Livingston Murphy (d.1953); sale of his estate, Christie’s, 19 November 1985, lot 36 as 'Culloth Force, Cumberland', £3,240; private collection, London

Exhibition History

London, 1988b, p.64; Sudbury, 1991, no.53; Grasmere, 2006, no.22 as ’Culloth Force’

Bibliography

Herrmann and Owen, 1973, p.47; Owen and Brown, 1988, p.46

About this Work

This faded view of Colwith Force on the river Brathay, then called Culloth Force, is one of eight watercolours of various sizes that Girtin produced for the well-known collector Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827) from the amateur’s own on-the-spot monochrome sketches (see the source image above).1 Seven of them show scenes in the Lake District, which helped to persuade some earlier writers to erroneously conclude that Girtin himself had visited the popular tourist destination, though in fact they are all copied from sketches made by Beaumont in the summer of 1798, and all but one of them are contained in an album now in the collection of the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere. As here, all of the watercolours are considerably larger than the models on which they are based, and they are further united by the fact that, whilst they employ a broader palette than Beaumont’s on-the-spot drawings, they do not significantly depart from the sketch aesthetic of their sources. 

This latter point is worth stressing because it helps to substantiate the manner in which the significance of Beaumont’s role in Girtin’s career has been inflated. The eight sketch-like watercolours commissioned by Beaumont around 1799–1800, though they clearly mark an advance on the amateur’s efforts in terms of spatial veracity and compositional clarity, are collectively the result of no more than a few days’ labour at the most, and they required little imaginative or technical input from the artist. Furthermore, Beaumont’s importance for Girtin’s career has been exaggerated by the persistent myth that the patron owned as many as ‘thirty drawings in water-colours by Girtin’ and that he ‘advised’ his young protégé, John Constable (1776–1837), to ‘study’ them ‘as examples of great breadth and truth’ (Fleming-Williams, 1990, p.77, quoting Leslie, 1845, p.6). The latter part of the statement may indeed be true, but the figure of thirty was almost certainly made up of the eight works discussed here plus the set of twenty Paris aquatints that Beaumont is now known to have acquired in 1803 – that, is after the artist’s death (Smith, 2017–18, p.34, n.63). Far from being the result of Beaumont’s generous patronage, it strikes me that what we might be looking at in this case, as with the other seven watercolour ‘sketches’, is the outcome of a lesson conducted by the professional artist using the amateur’s drawing as the basis of a demonstration of the principles of ‘breadth and truth’. Each of the changes Girtin introduced, ranging from the extension of the river in the foreground to the careful massing of the foliage throughout the composition, is nicely calculated to illustrate the principle of breadth. Whether or not the drawing was literally conceived as a lesson, I am sure that it was created in the patron’s home and that Girtin’s practice therefore briefly reverted to something like his earlier employment by other, albeit less talented, amateurs, including Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) and James Moore (1762–99).

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  1. 1 The change in title from ‘Culloth’ to Colwith Force is supported by the inscription on a comparable close-up view of the falls by Amos Green (1735–1807) dating from 1803 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1981.25.2116)).

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