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Works Thomas Girtin

Five Craft off the Coast on a Calm Sea (page 47 of the Whitworth Book of Drawings)

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1623: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Five Craft off the Coast on a Calm Sea, (?) 1800, graphite on wove paper, 14.6 × 21.7 cm, 5 ¾ × 8 ½ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1977.15.46).

Photo courtesy of The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Photo by Michael Pollard (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Five Craft off the Coast on a Calm Sea (page 47 of the Whitworth Book of Drawings)
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
14.6 × 21.7 cm, 5 ¾ × 8 ½ in

‘84’ lower left

Part of
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
428d as 'Five various craft on a calm sea; low lying hills coming down to the shore'; '1801'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2022


Sale at Platt Vicarage, Rusholme, Manchester, 1898; sketchbook bought by 'Shepherd'; then by descent to F. W. Shepherd; his sale, Sotheby’s, 7 July 1977, lot 46; bought by Baskett and Day; bought by the Gallery, 1977


Hardie, 1938–39, no.21, p.95

About this Work

This is one of three pencil studies of shipping located towards the end of the Whitworth Book of Drawings (the others being TG1622 and TG1624) that precede two views of Mulgrave Castle (TG1625 and TG1626). Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak suggested that the shipping studies, and six other sketches of boats in various configurations, were ‘probably made in the neighbourhood of Whitby’, on the North Yorkshire coast, during Girtin’s ‘visit to Mulgrave Castle’, which they dated to 1801 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.192–93). Susan Morris, in contrast, thought that the shipping studies were made on a hitherto unrecorded trip to ‘the West Country in 1800 or 1801’, citing an inscription on the back of Shipping off the Coast on a Calm Sea (TG1624), which she read as ‘Mount Edgecumbe’, referring to a location near Plymouth in Devon (Morris, 1986, p.21). However, I have found no convincing evidence to support the idea of a second West Country trip, and I am not entirely convinced by the reading of the inscription which may not even be by Girtin. In turn, though I do not agree with Girtin and Loshak’s dating of Girtin’s visit to 1801, the suggestion that most, if not all, all nine of the shipping studies were made on the North Yorkshire coast does seem plausible. In fact, Girtin showed no great interest in naval subjects, certainly in comparison with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), and I suspect that apart from during his stay at Mulgrave Castle, which I believe took place in 1800, the artist probably only sketched coastal subjects on two occasions: during his trip to the West Country in 1797 and a year earlier on a visit to Northumbria. Indeed, looking at the group of studies as a whole, one is struck by the artist’s indifference to the appearance of the sea, which is generally depicted as a bland, flat surface. An earlier legend, now rightly discounted by Girtin and Loshak and others, has it that Girtin travelled to the north east on a collier, but sketches such as this bear no evidence of his ever having even embarked on a vessel (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.25). The ships are frozen in time, so carefully calculated in their placement that they could easily have been copied from other sources, and the one possible explanation for their static position, that they are at anchor, is negated by the fact that three are shown in full sail.

(?) 1800

Beached Vessels at Low Tide


(?) 1800

Shipping off the Coast on a Calm Sea


(?) 1800

The Ruins of Old Mulgrave Castle


(?) 1800

Mulgrave Park and Castle, from near Epsyke Farm


(?) 1800

Shipping off the Coast on a Calm Sea


by Greg Smith

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