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Works Thomas Girtin after Sir George Howland Beaumont

Conwy: The Town Walls

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1578: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753–1827), Conwy: The Town Walls, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 30.8 × 47.5 cm, 12 ⅛ × 18 ¾ in. National Gallery of Art, Washington (2002.22.1).

Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art Washington (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753-1827)
  • Conwy: The Town Walls
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
30.8 × 47.5 cm, 12 ⅛ × 18 ¾ in
Object Type
Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827); then by descent to Sir George Howland Francis Beaumont, 12th Baronet (1924–2011); his sale, Sotheby’s, 16 March 1978, lot 91; bought by the British Rail Pension Fund, £17,000; their sale, Sotheby’s, 10 March 1988, lot 43, £46,200; private collection, USA; Thos. Agnew & Sons, 2001; bought by the Gallery, 2002

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1975, no.55; Agnew’s, 2001, no.35; London, 2002, no.125; Washington, 2004, no catalogue; Washington, 2006, no catalogue


Owen, 1969, p.47; Herrmann and Owen, 1973, p.49

About this Work

This 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. Seven of the works show scenes in the Lake District, which helped to persuade some earlier writers to erroneously conclude that Girtin had visited the popular tourist destination himself, though he actually copied all of them from sketches dating from Beaumont’s 1798 tour of the region. Although the artist did visit Conwy himself in the summer of 1798, he does not seem to have sketched this unusual view of the town walls and the Mill Gate, seen from the east and the road to Llanrwst, and this one Welsh scene was likewise realised from a drawing made by Beaumont. The sketch, made in 1793, is still in the possession of Beaumont’s descendants in an album titled Outlines in North Wales. As with Girtin’s other watercolours after Beaumont, this work is considerably larger than its model, and the group of drawings are further united by the fact that, whilst they employ a broader palette than Beaumont’s on-the-spot studies, they do not significantly depart from the sketch aesthetic of their sources. Indeed, such is Girtin’s summary treatment of the town walls that in order to read them with any great confidence, one needs to turn to the on-the-spot sketch made by his colleague Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), who sketched the same view, also in 1798, with enough detail to make it clear that the castle itself does not feature (see figure 1). 

Conwy: The Town Walls from the East

The idea that Girtin should have based his sketch-like watercolour on the drawing of an amateur artist when he had only recently visited the location himself is a curious one to modern thinking. It is possible that the impetus came from Girtin himself, attracted by a composition the merits of which he had missed when visiting the site. On the other hand, this is perhaps reading too much into the work and, in general, I suspect that the significance of Beaumont’s role in Girtin’s career has been greatly 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. The exaggerated role played by Beaumont in Girtin’s career is the result, I suspect, of two persistent myths. The first has it that the baronet welcomed Girtin to his summer residence in Benarth in North Wales in 1800, where, according to earlier writers, he joined a coterie of landscape artists who benefitted from the patron’s largesse and encouragement; however, there is no evidence that the watercolourist ever made a second trip to Wales (Kitson, 1937, p.20; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.40). The second myth, following the account of John Constable’s biographer Charles Robert Leslie (1794–1859), suggests that Beaumont owned as many as ‘thirty drawings in water-colours by Girtin’ and that he ‘advised’ his young protégé 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).1 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 drawing lesson conducted by the professional artist using the amateur’s drawing as the basis of a demonstration of the principles of ‘breadth and truth’. Whether or not this was precisely the case, I am sure that the works were 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).

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 manufacturer but made with a different furnish (blend of raw materials) to the other Dutch drawing cartridges such as were employed in The Temple of Vesta, Tivoli (TG0879) (Smith, 2002b, p.161; Bower, Report). The work has faded slightly, as indicated by the strips to the bottom and left, which have been protected by a later mount and which show the original state of the watercolour, though generally it is in good condition.

1799 - 1800

The Temple of Vesta, Tivoli, Drawn from a Cork Model


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 A list of subscribers is included in John Girtin’s account of the income he received from the Picturesque Views in Paris, together with the expenses incurred in completing the project. They are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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