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Works Thomas Girtin

London from Highgate Hill


Primary Image: TG0060: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), London from Highgate Hill, 1792, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 33.8 × 49 cm, 13 ¼ × 19 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.6179).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • London from Highgate Hill
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
33.8 × 49 cm, 13 ¼ × 19 ¼ in

‘. Girtin / 92 ’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
London and Environs; The View from Above

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


Sir Andrew Gilchrist; Sotheby's, 18 December 1957, lot 33; bought by Spink & Son Ltd, London, £26; bought from them by Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1964; presented to the Center, 1977

Exhibition History

New Haven, 1986a, no.4; London, 2002, no.21


Mayne, 1949, no.10

About this Work

W. Knight (active 1797–99), after Edward Dayes (1763–1804), engraving and etching, 'View of London from Highgate' for Henry Hunter, <i>The History of London</i>, 1797, 21.2 × 29 cm, 8 ⅜ × 11 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1927,1126.1.9.10).

This signed and dated view of London from Highgate Hill provides a benchmark against which to judge and date other watercolours from a period when all the evidence suggests Girtin’s apprenticeship to Edward Dayes (1763–1804) was either over or coming to a premature end. The work is particularly significant because, for the first time with Girtin’s surviving watercolours, there are no signs that the student based his composition on another artist’s work. Dayes’ own view London from Highgate (see figure 1), which was engraved and published in 1797, is taken from a more distant point and although it also shows a prominent St Paul’s in the centre, Girtin clearly did not copy his master’s work as he was forced to do when depicting a scene he had not experienced at first hand, as with his view of Rochester Castle (TG0057). Like many other young artists at this period, Girtin visited the villages north of London to sketch the scenery, and this watercolour was presumably produced from an untraced drawing of the view towards the city across the then undeveloped countryside. Pointedly, Girtin dispenses with the flanking trees employed by Dayes to frame his view from Highgate and places a group of trees in the centre to divide the composition in a characteristically idiosyncratic manner. This does not necessarily mean that the watercolour was made away from Dayes’ studio, however, and it is important to remember that Girtin’s master sent London views by his apprentice to Greenwood’s auction house in June 1791 and again in February 1792 (Exhibitions: Greenwood, 10 June 1791; Greenwood, 9 February 1792). Producing works for his master to sell was one way that an apprentice could buy out his indentures and it may be that this London view, even if it was not the work sent to Greenwood’s, was painted for this purpose, perhaps along with views of Rochester (TG0057), Durham (TG0012) and the Lake District (TG0078). These watercolours are invariably signed and, as here, even where the mount has been lost, there is evidence that it was an integral part of the work. The ‘T’ from the signature has not been cut away; however, having partly strayed onto the original mount, it was lost when the support was removed in response to changes in the fashion for displaying watercolours.

Girtin may not have used his master’s composition, but in other respects London from Highgate Hill illustrates his continuing dependence on Dayes. This is especially seen in Girtin’s restricted palette and in mannerisms including the way he depicts the foliage, which recalls his master’s tree studies, such as The Oak Tree (see TG0993 figure 1). The dark foreground, with its summary treatment of forms, is again a very Dayesian touch that, when combined with the distant view over the capital, exposes the young artist’s shortcomings in the use of aerial perspective. Details such as the glasshouses, which line up with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, show how closely Girtin observed the view over the city, but they sit slightly uneasily with the residual conventions learnt in the studio from copying Dayes’ works.

(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway


(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway



Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear


1791 - 1792

Lake Windermere and Belle Isle


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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