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Works Thomas Girtin

Farm Buildings

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1789: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Farm Buildings, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 8.7 × 11.5 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.35).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Farm Buildings
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
8.7 × 11.5 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; Rural Labour

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.18b

About this Work

This view of a ramshackle barn 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). However, only one of the scenes can be identified as a local view, Copenhagen House, Islington (TG1783), and although some of them appear to be imaginary, others, as in this case, resemble the 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).

A Rustic Cottage

If we want confirmation that this work was not coloured on the spot, then a comparison with the village view that probably shows Radwinter in Essex (TG1788) provides it. Thus, although the two sketches feature quite different subjects, they both employ the same palette of colours, so much so that one can readily imagine Girtin working on both sheets at the same time, moving from one to the other to wash in the colours in turn; indeed, it is possible that the artist worked on others simultaneously, including TG1791 and TG1793, which likewise appear to use the same tones.

A sketch of a rustic cottage on a similar small scale was sold by Abbott and Holder in 2014 (see figure 1), one of a pair of monochrome drawings attributed to Girtin (see TG1794 figure 1). The set of small sketches in the collection of the British Museum may be slight, but the colouring, even at its weakest, retains a sense of structure that this series of blots, without any pencil armature, singularly lacks. Other than the fact that the washes were added at speed and that the image is equally small, I can see no reason to link the work with Girtin with any degree of certainty, and I am not inclined to accept the attribution of its pair either.


(?) 1802

Copenhagen House, Islington


(?) 1802

A Church in a Village, Possibly at Radwinter


(?) 1802

A Cottage in a Field


(?) 1802

A Barn by a Road


by Greg Smith

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