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Works Thomas Girtin after George Morland

Dogs Hesitating about the Pluck

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0874: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after George Morland (1763–1804), Dogs Hesitating about the Pluck, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 24.3 × 31.8 cm, 9 ⅝ × 12 ½ in. British Museum, London (1878,1228.14).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after George Morland (1763-1804)
  • Dogs Hesitating about the Pluck
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
24.3 × 31.8 cm, 9 ⅝ × 12 ½ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Animal Study

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
412 as 'c. 1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Henderson (1764–1843); then by descent to John Henderson II (1797–1878) (lent to Manchester, 1857; London, 1875); bequeathed to the Museum, 1878

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1857, no.75 as 'Dogs, after Morland'; London, 1875, no.127


Miller, 1854, p.xxi; Thornbury, 1862, vol.1, p.99; Monkhouse, 1890, p.44; Binyon, 1898–1907, no.84

About this Work

'Fighting Dogs'

This watercolour was copied from a composition by the genre painter George Morland (1763–1804), a contemporary of Girtin. Walter Thornbury (1828–76), the early biographer of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), described it as a copy ‘of Morland’s vulgar picture, “Dogs hesitating about the Pluck”’, though it has not been possible to trace the original source (Thornbury, 1862, vol.1, p.99). Thornbury provided an alternative title, ‘Dogs preparing to fight over their Food’, which seems to describe the action more accurately, for, rather than hesitating, the dogs are engaged in a full-scale confrontation, with the dog on the left bristling with intent, though careful to avoid eye contact with the other animal, who protects the captured prey, a hare. The ‘pluck’ referred to in the title is the heart, liver and lungs of an animal, hence the term for heart, courage and spirit. A mezzotint after an oil painting by Morland of dogs fighting shows the consequence of the stand-off and gives some idea of the appearance of the lost painting since it too has a coastal setting (see figure 1). One thing is very clear, however: there is nothing anywhere else in Girtin’s output to suggest that he could have painted such a carefully observed image of canine behaviour without a model to follow.

The watercolour came from the collection of John Henderson (1764–1843), the amateur artist who around 1795–96 provided Girtin with a large number of commissions, primarily for watercolour copies of prints and outline sketches in his own collection, including versions of his own drawings. However, unlike the watercolour copies of the works of contemporary artists such as Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) (such as TG0867) or Thomas Malton the Younger (1748–1804) (such as TG0872), which were made after prints, there is no evidence that the patron owned the source of this work, which indeed was probably a larger oil painting. In fact, it is even possible that Girtin had access to the original in Morland’s studio since a friendship between the two is well documented, and they actually collaborated on a drawing on more than one occasion (see print after TG0875). For this reason, it may be that this watercolour dates from slightly later than the rest of the copies that Henderson commissioned, though the formulaic depiction of the rocky shoreline does not necessarily suggest that Girtin had yet experienced coastal scenery at first hand – that was something that does not seem to have occurred until later in 1796.

A final word of caution: although the Henderson provenance of the drawing is secure, it does not automatically follow that he also commissioned the work. Girtin’s other great patron of the mid-1790s, Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), included in one of his anonymous sales a lot listed as ‘Two after Morland, Girtin’ (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 23 March 1804, lot 100), and it is therefore possible that Henderson bought this watercolour at that sale. Even if this was not the case, that sale still has a significance since it suggests not only that Girtin made a number of other copies after Morland’s work but also that there are a number of other examples awaiting discovery.

(?) 1795

Lanercost Priory Church: An Interior View of the Ruins from the South Transept


(?) 1795

London: St George’s, Hanover Square


1798 - 1799

The Earth Stopper


by Greg Smith

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