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Works Thomas Girtin

Hawarden Castle

(?) 1798

Primary Image: TG1350: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Hawarden Castle, (?) 1798, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper (watermark: ornamented fleur-de-lys / 1794), 26 × 43 cm, 10 ¼ × 17 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of a Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Hawarden Castle
(?) 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper (watermark: ornamented Fleur-de-Lys / 1794)
26 × 43 cm, 10 ¼ × 17 in

‘From my Brother’s Portfolio / J.G.’ on the back, by John Girtin; ‘Harwardine Castle’ on the back, not in Thomas Girtin’s hand

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales

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


John Girtin (1773–1821); ... Sotheby’s, 10 November 1994, lot 17; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £1,035; ... Sotheby’s, 4 July 2001, lot 176, £4,560; John van Oosterom of J v O Papers

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1995, no.18; London, 2002, no.83


Bower, 2002, p.140

About this Work

Of the three outline drawings of Hawarden Castle produced by Girtin (the others being TG0243 and TG0274), this has the strongest claim to having been executed on the spot during his visit to North Wales in the summer of 1798. The other two views, in pen and ink, of the late thirteenth-century keep on top of the Norman motte appear to have been copied at an earlier date from a sketch by the artist’s first significant patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99) (see TG0274 figure 1). Girtin also employs pen and ink to reinforce the outlines of the castle ruins in this colour sketch, but, though this is in general not typical of the on-the-spot drawings made on the 1798 trip, a signed view of the nearby St Winefride’s Well (TG1300) provides a precedent for the practice. Moreover, though the drawing still resembles Moore’s sketch, working from the motif meant that the artist was able to invest the ruins with a convincing three-dimensional quality that is superior to what is seen in the other sketches, where the structure of the castle is subservient to the decorative qualities of the pen work. Furthermore, any lingering doubts one might have about the attribution of a far from typical drawing are allayed by the inscription on the back which reads ‘From my Brother’s Portfolio’ and is signed by John Girtin (1773–1821) with his initials. We can say with some certainty, therefore, that this is one of the sketches that the artist’s brother appropriated from the studio after the death of Thomas and it may even have been amongst the unspecified ‘Sketches’ that John records as receiving ’16. 16.’ for on 21 February 1803 (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1

The Hawarden drawing is also significant for our understanding of the route that Girtin took in 1798. As the artist told the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821), he made the ‘tour through North Wales with a young man from Norwich of the name of Moss. – Girtin had no money, so Moss advanced him £20, & afterwards £5 more, all of which he expended, as he bore half the expences with Moss, excepting for Carriage Horses & Servant’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798). The well-known monument of St Winefride’s Well is only fifteen kilometres away along the same road from Hawarden, and so, given that the nearby Flint Castle also seems to have been the subject of a sketch at this time (TG1363), it looks as though Girtin entered North Wales from the direction of Chester and progressed north and then west along the coast. A date of ‘16 Augt 1798’ on a drawing of Corwen (TG1347) – that is, twelve days before he was recorded as being back in London to sit for his portrait (see TG1933) – also suggests that Girtin returned via mid-Wales and that his journey therefore progressed roughly in an anti-clockwise direction. Hawarden would therefore have been one of the first sites he sketched on the trip, and, given that more spectacular castle ruins would follow in quick succession thereafter, it is perhaps not surprising that this modest composition was not realised as a studio watercolour, though it does seem to have been copied by a follower or pupil (see TG1350a).

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid writing paper with a watermark of an ornamental fleur-de-lys above ‘1794’ (Bower, Report). This may have been manufactured by Clement Taylor the Younger (c.1745–1804) at Maidstone in Kent (Bower, 2002, p.140).

1795 - 1796

Hawarden Castle


1795 - 1796

Hawarden Castle


(?) 1798

St Winefride’s Well, Holywell


(?) 1798

Flint Castle



The River Dee, near Corwen



Profile Portrait of Thomas Girtin


(?) 1798


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Details are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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