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Works Thomas Girtin after Unknown Artist

Melville Castle

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG1566: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after an Unknown Artist, Melville Castle, 1792–93, graphite, pen and ink and watercolour on wove paper, on an original washline mount, 17.5 × 23.5 cm, 6 ⅞ × 9 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1176).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Unknown Artist
  • Melville Castle
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite, pen and ink and watercolour on wove paper, on an original washline mount
17.5 × 23.5 cm, 6 ⅞ × 9 ¼ in
Mount Dimensions
26 × 32.2 cm, 10 ¼ × 12 ⅝ in

‘T. Girtin’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin; ‘Buckham / Chalfont / TG’ on the back

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Country House View; Scottish View; The Landscape Park

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
152 as 'Chalfont House, Buckinghamshire'; '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Christie’s, 31 May 1886, lot 46; ... J. Palser & Sons (stock no.17028); bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) as 'Newstead Abbey', 15 January 1912; given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

Cambridge, 1920, no.19 as ’Hafod (?), Cardigan’; Agnew’s, 1931, no.139 as ’Chalfont House’; Sheffield, 1953, no.44; London, 1962a, no.132; Reading, 1969, no.39; New Haven, 1986a, no.42 as ’Chalfont House, Buckinghamshire’


Donington, 2014, pp.219–21; Hall, 2014, p.219

About this Work

Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) bought this early watercolour in 1912, when it was incorrectly titled ‘Newstead Abbey’. The identity of the building was altered to ‘Hafod (?)’ for the 1920 exhibition of Girtin’s works, before the owner changed his mind and titled it ‘Chalfont House, Buckinghamshire’, which he inscribed on the back of the drawing. Palser, the dealer Girtin’s ancestor bought the work from, does not record where he procured the watercolour. Therefore, it is not clear whether the artist’s descendant decided that the view showed Chalfont and concluded, as with Girtin’s depiction of the house (TG1564) and the lodge (TG1561), that the work had been commissioned by Thomas Hibbert (1744–1819), or whether he thought that the work came from the Hibbert collection and wrongly assumed that the building was old Chalfont House, prior to its remodelling in the 1790s. Whatever the case (and there is no evidence that the work was owned by the Hibbert family), Thomas Girtin and succeeding scholars were mistaken, as can be seen from the engraving of Chalfont House included in William Angus’ (1752–1821) Seats of the Nobility and Gentry, which shows a very different structure (see figure 1) (Angus, 1787–97). Another engraving from the same publication has made it possible to finally identify the building as Melville Castle, near Dalkeith, a few miles from Edinburgh (see figure 2). This was designed by James Playfair (1755–94) and was built in 1786–91 for Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811). The engraved view is taken from the opposite direction, but the simple three-storey Gothic design, redolent of a toy fort, is clearly the same building shown by Girtin, in spite of his uncharacteristically poor perspective.

Girtin and Loshak dated the work to 1796, but knowing the identity of the building suggests an earlier date and establishes the fact that the watercolour must have been made after the drawing of another artist, as Girtin did not travel beyond the Borders on his trips to Scotland (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.154). An earlier date is supported by stylistic evidence, with the building itself bounded by an inflexible penned outline and the foliage rendered very schematically. The patterning on the bank in the foreground and the treatment of the water are more characteristic of the young Girtin, whilst the form of the signature allays any doubts about the attribution. It has not been possible to identify the source of Girtin’s image, though the antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), Girtin’s earliest patron, is one possibility. On his 1792 Scottish trip he drew Duff House and commissioned two watercolours of it from Girtin (TG0108 and TG0184), but there are no records of any view of Melville in his collection. A more probable scenario is that a young Girtin was commissioned to produce a finished watercolour from the sketch of an amateur for engraving and that, for whatever reason, it was not published.

(?) 1800

Chalfont House, from the North East, with Fishermen Netting the Broadwater


(?) 1800

The North Front of Chalfont Lodge, Seen from the Lake


1792 - 1793

Duff House, from the South



Duff House, from the River


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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