The view is taken from the direction of Benarth and this, together with the date inscribed on the watercolour, has led a number of writers, including Susan Morris, and, earlier, Sydney Kitson, to speculate that Girtin returned to north Wales in the summer of 1800, when Beaumont rented a country retreat there, and that this work records that visit (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.40; Morris, 1986, p.21). According to Kitson, the artist shown working in the middle ground is either John Sell Cotman (1782–1842) (see figure 2) or Beaumont himself (see figure 1), both of whom sketched this view during what appears to have been a convivial gathering of artists in that summer (Kitson, 1937, p.21). However, there is no documentary evidence that Girtin visited the area in 1800, and the link between dated drawings from this period and possible second trips to Wales and the West Country reflects, I suspect, a misunderstanding about the artist’s relationship with the marketplace. Watercolours were dated by Girtin during this period to prove to prospective buyers that they were newly created and not simply unsold stock, and so the existence of a view of Conwy from 1800 and the fact that Beaumont entertained a group of young professional artists nearby were merely fortuitous. As with the similarly dated view of Caernarfon Castle (TG1738), it seems that Girtin returned to his earlier sketches to produce new watercolours for Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. The fact that the artist executed a copy of Beaumont’s view of Conwy Castle from a different angle (TG1578) at about the same date is again coincidental.
On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid drawing cartridge paper by an unknown Dutch maker, worked on the artist’s favoured wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture (Smith, 2002b, p.214; Bower, Report). It comes from the same batch used by Girtin for his drawing of a cork model of a temple at Tivoli (TG0879). Like that very different sketch, this watercolour has survived in generally good condition, though this has nothing to do with the coarse nature of the support, reflecting instead a choice of pigments that does not include the fugitive gamboge and indigo that the artist often used for yellows and blues.
1792 - 1793
Conwy Castle, Looking West
1798 - 1799
The Great Hall, Conwy Castle
1797 - 1798
The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins
Caernarfon Castle, from the East
1799 - 1800
Conwy: The Town Walls
1799 - 1800
The Temple of Vesta, Tivoli, Drawn from a Cork Model