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Works Thomas Girtin after (?) Edward Dayes

Eton College, from the River


Primary Image: TG0013: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after (?) Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Eton College, from the River, 1790, graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and gum arabic on wove paper, on an original washline mount, 36.8 × 48.6 cm, 14 ½ × 19 ⅛ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1138).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Eton College, from the River
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and gum arabic on wove paper, on an original washline mount
36.8 × 48.6 cm, 14 ½ × 19 ⅛ in
Mount Dimensions
46.4 × 58.6 cm, 18 ¼ × 23 ⅛ in

‘Thos. Girtin. 90’ within the border lower left, by Thomas Girtin; ‘Eaton Collegd’ and ‘Eaton Collegd’ on the back in brown ink, probably by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Windsor and Environs

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


Possibly Greenwood, 10 June 1791, lot 37 as 'Two ditto of Windsor and Eton'; ... Robinson, 4 November 1920, lot 101; ... P & D Colnaghi & Co.; given to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 1954; Tom Girtin (1913–94); bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

London, 1962a, no.110; Reading, 1969, no.18; New Haven, 1986a, no.1; London, 2002, no.19 as ’Eton College, from the Datchet Road’

About this Work

Although an ambitious exercise for a fifteen-year-old in his second year as an apprentice, this signed and dated work not surprisingly displays signs of immaturity. For example, the buildings of Eton College, including the east end of the chapel and the medieval hexagonal kitchen, are simply placed parallel to the picture plane, but they are interrupted by the wooden bridge with its clumsy and unconvincing perspective, and the relationship between the near and far distances is poorly handled. In particular, the dark foreground, with its crudely silhouetted foliage, employs a different set of conventions from the distant architecture and there is no coherent sense of space across the composition. The young apprentice also adopts many of his master’s mannerisms, particularly in the depiction of the foliage, and the extensive use of gum arabic to strengthen the shadows gives the foreground a heavy feel at odds with the even light on the buildings.

Eton College, from the River

It is inconceivable that a young apprentice would have been free to travel to Windsor and the work was no doubt copied from another source. Other early works, such as the 1790 view Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear (TG0012) or Rochester, from the River Medway (TG0015), were based on sketches made by Girtin’s master Edward Dayes (1763–1804), but no comparable source has been found for his work. However, a view of Eton by Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), looking south west and from a point slightly downstream (figure 1), clearly indicates that Girtin’s composition is at least partially invented. To take a view of the buildings at right angles, an artist would have had to be stationed close to the riverbank looking directly west, and from this position it is not possible to see Datchet Bridge, the wooden structure that spanned the Thames further downstream, nor would the river have appeared so narrow. Although it has not been possible to identify the source, it is clear, that Girtin copied a simple, old-fashioned prospect view of Eton College looking west, and that he improvised his own foreground based on a typical combination of riverbank and overarching trees derived from Dayes’ work, as in the case of his contemporary view Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear. And to this he added, at a wholly unconvincing angle, an approximation of Datchet Bridge – an approximation because by this date the wooden bridge had acquired stone bases to the piers and so the transplanted structure shown here was also probably taken from an earlier source. The title by which the work has always been known, ‘Eton College, from the Datchet Road’, is therefore substantially incorrect.

The watercolour has remained in a splendid condition and this is enhanced by the fact that, as is all too rarely the case, it has retained Girtin’s original mount. The manner in which the washes of colour have strayed from the image onto the mount indicates that the watercolour was painted at least partly after it had been mounted by the artist, and the decorative support therefore formed an integral part of the composition. The signature and the date to the left also suggest that, whatever the watercolour’s shortcomings, it was produced as more than a simple studio exercise. Dayes sent a number of works by his young apprentice to the auction rooms and it is possible that this watercolour was offered as part of lot 37, ‘Two views of Windsor and Eton’, at Greenwood’s on 10 June 1791 (Exhibitions: Greenwood, 10 June 1791), and it clear that even from as early as 1790 Girtin was producing saleable commodities, albeit for the benefit of his master.


Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear



Rochester, from the River Medway


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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