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Works Thomas Girtin

Conwy Castle, from the River Gyffin


Primary Image: TG1739: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Conwy Castle, from the River Gyffin, 1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 26.5 × 53.2 cm, 10 ⅜ × 21 in. Private Collection, Norfolk (I/E/25).

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Conwy Castle, from the River Gyffin
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
26.5 × 53.2 cm, 10 ⅜ × 21 in

‘Girtin 1800’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales; Panoramic Format; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
359 as 'Conway Castle'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and April 2022


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Girtin (1836–1912) (lent to London, 1875); by a settlement to his sister, Ida Johanna Hog Rogge, née Girtin (1834–1925), January 1880; sold by her to J. Palser & Sons (stock no.15469); bought by Sir Hickman Bacon (1855–1945), 3 November 1904, £19; then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.92 as 'Conway Castle, North Wales'; London, 1927, no catalogue; London, 1946, no.96; Arts Council, 1946, no.81; Boston, 1948, no.128; Bedford, 1952, no.44; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.68; Manchester, 1975, no.67; Dulwich, 2001, no.10; London, 2002, no.163


Davies, 1924, pl.79; Kitson, 1937, p.21; Mayne, 1949, p.106

About this Work

This fine panoramic view, showing the castle and the town walls of Conwy looking roughly north from the banks of the river Gyffin, was probably based on an untraced sketch made by Girtin on his visit to North Wales in 1798. According to the Revd Richard Warner (1763–1857), who visited the site in 1797, ‘the appearance of’ Conwy ‘from a little distance’ was particularly impressive, since from here the ‘extent and substance of its walls, the number and hugeness of its round towers, perched on a rock, and rising sublimely above a noble estuary, produce an effect prodigiously grand’. The best angle to appreciate the ‘noble range’ of defensive towers, he added, was from the south, looking across the Gyffin, and this is indeed the view adopted by Girtin (Warner, 1798, p.139). The lateral extent of the walls may be impressive from here, but the view is difficult to incorporate into an effective composition, and Girtin had accordingly hitherto concentrated on close-up views of the castle (TG0107 and TG1306), which did not radically depart from the conventions employed by amateur artists such as his patron Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827) (see figure 1). However, by the time Girtin returned to the subject to paint this work in 1800, he had refined his use of the panoramic mode, and he was able to articulate the foreground and beyond as a series of broad diagonal masses that do not distract from the main topographical interest. In the process, the artist avoided the diffuse and unfocused quality that marks some of his earlier experiments with an extended format, such as The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins, from around 1797–98 (TG1229).

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


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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