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Works Thomas Girtin after Edward Dayes

Lake Windermere and Belle Isle

1791 - 1792

Primary Image: TG0078: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Lake Windermere and Belle Isle, 1791–92, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 35.7 × 49.4 cm, 14 × 19 ½ in. Wordsworth Grasmere (2012.54)

Photo courtesy of The Wordsworth Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Lake Windermere and Belle Isle
1791 - 1792
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
35.7 × 49.4 cm, 14 × 19 ½ in

'TB' in the form of the elaborate monogram of a former owner Dr Theodore Besterman (1904-76); ‘Windermere Lake / Girtin’ on the back

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Lake Scenery; The Lake District

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2000 and September 2023


Possibly Greenwood, 10 June 1791, lot 97 as ‘Two, on the lakes’; ... Walker’s Galleries, London; Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.32063); Appleby Brothers Ltd, London; bought from them by Leonard Gordon Duke (1890–1971), 1960, £10 90 (D3816); his sale, Sotheby’s, 5 March 1970, lot 83 as 'Lake Windermere and Wray Castle'; bought by Dr Theodore Besterman (1904-76), £320; his sale, Christie’s, 14 December 1971, lot 52; bought by 'Barclay', 220 gns; Thos. Agnew & Sons; ... Christie’s, 8 June 2000, lot 141 as with 'an original pen and ink border', £14,100; ... Guy Peppiatt Fine Art; bought from them, 2012

Exhibition History

Guy Peppiatt, London, 2011, no.22

About this Work

Windermere Lake from Turner Falls, Lancashire Side

This view of Lake Windermere, with Belle Isle and its incongruous round house in the form of a classical temple visible in the centre and Troutbeck Fells beyond, was produced during the period of Girtin’s apprenticeship to Edward Dayes (1763–1804). The young apprentice, perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old, certainly could not have visited the Lake District at this time and, indeed, although Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak attributed a number of similar views to purported trips to the area in 1800 and 1801, it is now clear that all of his Lake District subjects were made, as in this case, after the works of other artists (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.41–42). The source for Girtin’s watercolour was in all probability an extended view that appears to be an on-the-spot sketch made on Dayes’ visit to the Lakes in 1789 (see figure 1). Windermere Lake from Turner Falls, Lancashire Side is painted on two pieces of paper with rapidly applied washes in a limited palette and thereby has a strong claim to be a rare survival of Dayes’ habit of supplementing his stock of pencil outlines of topographical subjects with colour studies. Working presumably from this sketch, Girtin follows the basic topography of Dayes’ view but develops the foreground in particular, completing the bend in the road, raising the bank to the left and adding a wall to the right. Beyond that he takes a number of the insignificant trees lined across the middle ground and enhances them considerably so that they enclose the rather bald view recorded by Dayes, creating an enticing screen for the distant lake. Dayes’ more extended view is transformed into a finished composition by a young artist who, having not visited the scene himself, felt free to enhance the topographical record.

Stylistically, the watercolour is comparable to a group of early views, some of them dated 1791 and 1792, that were all based on compositions by Dayes, including The Dover Mail, Dover Castle in the Distance (TG0075), and that share the same tripartite structure. In the predominantly shaded foreground, a road curves round, flanked by trees that employ the same Dayesian conventions with greens and browns dominating. This gives way to a predominantly blue, well-lit distance in which the topographical subject, Belle Isle and the distant hills, is rendered with great clarity. This, in turn, merges with a luminous sky, with the clouds emerging from the fluid application of washes of blue. The only clear sign in all of this of the artist’s immaturity is the way that the fine individual parts do not yet form a coherent whole.

Early Lake District scenes such as this and what may be its pair, The View from the Great Boathouse, Lake Windermere (TG0073), which was also presumably made after a composition by Dayes, initially struck me as teaching exercises in which the apprentice tried out the skills passed on from his master (Smith, 2002b, p.45). It is certainly true that such watercolours were not made as commissions, but the discovery during the writing of this online catalogue of the details of a series of very early sales of Girtin’s works, consigned to the auctioneers by Dayes himself, has opened up a different possibility. Greenwood’s sale on 17 November 1791 included as lot 50 ‘Ulswater, and Windermere lakes’ by Girtin, and again on 7 February 1793, lot 89 by Girtin was described as ‘Two, views in Cumberland’ (Exhibitions: Greenwood, 17 November 1791; Greenwood, 7 February 1793). Although there is no way of knowing whether this work was included in these sales, or another that contained two views ‘on the Lakes’ in June 1791 (Exhibitions: Greenwood, 10 June 1791), it is clear that Dayes had quickly realised that there was a ready market for Lake District scenes by his apprentice made after his own compositions. The dates of the sales, coinciding with the premature end of Girtin’s apprenticeship, suggest another motivation, however, with Dayes presumably seeking financial compensation for the impending loss of his pupil’s labour.

Girtin’s watercolour retained its washline mount until relatively recently, and although there is no photographic record of the work’s original appearance it is likely to have resembled that of Rochester Castle, from the River Medway (TG0057). That work is signed on the mount ‘Girtin fecit.’ which no doubt helped with the preservation of its original display feature. The elaborate monogram to the lower left is not by Girtin, however, but the mark of an earlier owner, Dr Theodore Besterman (1904-76).

1791 - 1792

The Dover Mail, Dover Castle in the Distance


1791 - 1792

The View from the Great Boathouse, Lake Windermere


(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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