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Works Thomas Girtin

Kingswear on the River Dart

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1267: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Kingswear on the River Dart, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 19.4 × 32.7 cm, 7 ⅝ × 12 ⅞ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1981.25.2591).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Kingswear on the River Dart
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
19.4 × 32.7 cm, 7 ⅝ × 12 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Christie’s, 6 June 1972, lot 80 as 'Saint Petrock Church, near Dartmouth'; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £8,400; bought from them by Paul Mellon (1907–99); presented to the Center, 1981

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1973, no.64 as ’St. Petrock Church, near Dartmouth’, £12,500; New Haven, 1977, no.114; New Haven, 1986a, no.56 as 'Kingswear, from Dartmouth, Devon'

About this Work

This view of the village of Kingswear on the east bank of the river Dart, opposite Dartmouth, differs from the scene shown in the pencil drawing that Girtin made on his tour of the West Country in 1797 (TG1264), which formed the basis for two watercolours (TG1265 and TG1266). Moving his viewpoint from Bayard’s Cove Fort to a spot on the riverbank a hundred metres further north was sufficient to open up a more extensive view of the estuary, and a greater number of vessels enter the scene as a result. The more oblique angle gives greater prominence to the church of St Thomas as well, and it creates a rather more conventional image whereby the symmetrical centralised form of Mount Ridley that dominates the other views is now balanced by a similar eminence further south along the river. It is just possible that the artist was able to effect these changes to the composition without recourse to another sketch, but it is more likely that Girtin made a second pencil drawing that has subsequently been lost.

Though Kingswear was noted in the travel literature of the time for its attractive location, it was not the most obvious subject for no fewer than three studio watercolours, encompassing two different compositions, but clearly Girtin was able to create a market for what Susan Morris has identified as a ‘new’ type of marine subject matter. Eschewing equally the ‘histrionic tradition of storms and shipwrecks’ and the ‘anecdotal Dutch shore scene, with chatting fishermen and villagers’, she suggested, meant that Girtin concentrated on the play of a ‘bright but not harsh light’ on the buildings, the landscape within which they are immersed, and the watery margins that mirror their reflections (Morris, 1986, p.17). Although I disagree with the way that Morris downplays the role of the market in her analysis of the character of the works that Girtin created following his 1797 trip, she rightly emphasises the way that a ‘higher key and more naturalistic palette’ has resulted in more summery effects that contrast with the predominant gloom of the northern scenes sketched in 1796. In this case, the colours are quite crude and the predominant blue tone of the trees suggest the use of a fugitive yellow that has faded, but the ‘sparkling briskness’ detected by Morris remains intact. All of this is made even more remarkable by the fact that it is now known that Girtin did not visit the region in the summer, as Morris logically assumed, but was in Kingswear sketching sometime in the middle of November, so that the bright and lively effects of later studio watercolours such as this are the result of an act of imagination rather than observation (Smith, 2017–18, p.35).

(?) 1797

Kingswear, from Dartmouth


1797 - 1798

Kingswear, from Dartmouth


1798 - 1799

Kingswear, from Dartmouth


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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