For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

Copenhagen House, Islington

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1783: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Copenhagen House, Islington, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, with a black line border, 8.8 × 11.3 cm, 3 ½ × 4 ½ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.39).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Copenhagen House, Islington
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper, with a black line border
8.8 × 11.3 cm, 3 ½ × 4 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
London and Environs

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.19a; Binyon, 1931, p.107; Binyon, 1933, p.106; Binyon, 1944, p.95; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.84–85; Pevsner, 1964, pp.161–63

About this Work

This view of Islington in north London, showing Copenhagen Fields with the pleasure resort and tea rooms known as Copenhagen House in the distance, is one of fifteen generally slight colour sketches, all measuring roughly 8.9 × 11.4 cm (3 ½ × 4 ½ in), that appear to have come from a sketchbook worked late in Girtin’s career. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that these works ‘represent the fruits of local sketching trips taken during the summer of 1802’, and they argued that the fact that none of them were used as the basis for studio watercolours supported a late date (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.84–85). Copenhagen House is indeed close to the artist’s last address, his father-in-law’s house at 11 Scott’s Place in Islington, but this is the only one of the scenes that can be identified as local, and, whilst some of the scenes appear to be imaginary, others probably represent picturesque subjects sketched in Essex three or four years earlier. Thus, whilst the sketches were evidently created at speed, it is unlikely that they were worked up on the spot, being produced instead in the studio to satisfy the market for the less formal aspects of the artist’s output. The evidence that they come from a sketchbook is also ambiguous, since, as the paper historian Peter Bower has pointed out, specialised books for the use of artists were not manufactured at this date, and they either used pocketbooks or they themselves gathered together sheets of paper (Bower, 2002, p.141). New evidence, in the form of the account of John Girtin (1773–1821) of the material that he removed from his brother’s studio at his death, suggests that the latter was the case here. John records that amongst the items that he appropriated to settle his brother’s extensive unpaid debts were ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’, and it seems likely that these included the group of small drawings now in the British Museum, which would, indeed, date from late in his life (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). John Girtin was thus responsible for splitting up the ‘little Books’ and selling the sketches to collectors such as Chambers Hall (1786–1855), the generous patron of the museum (Smith, 2017–18, pp.35–36).

Copenhagen House

Copenhagen Fields was the subject of a well-known print by James Gillray (1756–1815) that records the public meeting called by the London Corresponding Society in November 1795 and that, according to the text on the print, was attended by ‘more than a hundred thousand persons’ protesting about two of the repressive acts passed by the government of William Pitt the Younger (1759–1806): the first outlawing seditious meetings and the second punishing treasonable practices (see figure 1). Girtin was no doubt aware of the association of the location with radical opposition, but whether he chose the view because of that is another question, though there is perhaps something in the way that the figures all appear to be moving forward with a sense of purpose that suggests that this is more than a straightforward landscape.

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.