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Works Thomas Girtin

Fields in Flood

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1792: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Fields in Flood, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 8.6 × 11 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.67).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Fields in Flood
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
8.6 × 11 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ⅜ in
Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Unidentified Landscape

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.19b as 'Landscape with Pond'; Binyon, 1900, p.19; Binyon, 1931, p.114; Dickey, 1931, p.172; Piper, 1942, p.15; Binyon, 1944, p.95; Wilkinson, 1974, p.15

About this Work

This wintry view of flooded fields with a fine sunrise or sunset effect 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 resemble the picturesque vernacular 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).

The view of flooded fields stands out from the rest of the sketches in this group as being one of only two landscapes that lack any architectural features, and it is the only work to include one of the staple ingredients of the on-the-spot sketch, a specific weather or light effect. However, there is nothing to suggest that this work was created in a different way from the rest, in which the prevailing mood is a bright and even sunlight with broken skies that might easily be fabricated in the studio.

(?) 1802

Copenhagen House, Islington


by Greg Smith

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