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Works Thomas Girtin after John Cleveley the Younger

Mount Hekla, with Sir Joseph Banks and His Party Descending from the Volcano


Primary Image: TG0005: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after John Cleveley the Younger (1747-86), Mount Hekla, with Sir Joseph Banks and His Party Descending from the Volcano, 1790, graphite, pen and ink and watercolour on paper, on an original washline mount, 30.5 × 45.4 cm, 12 × 17 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's

Artist's source: John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86), A View of Mount Hekla, Iceland, with Sir Joseph Banks and his Party Descending, watercolour and pen and ink on paper, 34.3 × 49.2 cm, 13 ½ × 19 ⅜ in. British Library, London (Add Ms 15512, f.48).

Photo courtesy of The British Library Board (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after John Cleveley the Younger (1747-1786)
  • Mount Hekla, with Sir Joseph Banks and His Party Descending from the Volcano
Medium and Support
Graphite, pen and ink and watercolour on paper, on an original washline mount
30.5 × 45.4 cm, 12 × 17 ⅞ in

'J. Cleveley, Jun.r del. 1772. T. Gurton copied 1790' on the mount

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Icelandic View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


John Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley of Alderly (1766–1850); then by descent to Suzanne Beadle; her sale, Christie's, 15 June 1982, lot 18i

About this Work

This view of Mount Hekla is part of a group of very early signed and dated watercolours that Girtin produced for John Thomas Stanley (1766–1850). Stanley travelled to Iceland in the summer of 1789, following in the footsteps of his friend the famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), who had made the journey in 1772. On his return Stanley commissioned Philip Reinagle (1749–1833), Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821) and Girtin’s master at the time, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), to work up many of his sketches into finished watercolours as records of his trip. In 1790 Stanley also employed the fifteen-year-old Girtin, then in the second year of his apprenticeship to Dayes, to make copies of some of the watercolours that Banks had commissioned following his 1772 trip to Iceland, though the fee from the artist’s first professional engagement would have gone to his master. In all Girtin made nine watercolours based on an earlier set of drawings made for Banks by John Frederick Miller (1759–96), James Miller (active 1773–1814) and John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86). Having failed to publish them as engravings, Banks had them mounted as a souvenir of his northern journey. The four volumes, titled Drawings Illustrative of Sir Joseph Banks’s Voyage to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland, are today kept in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Library (Add Mss 15509–12). Girtin’s first dated works, which were sold by a descendant of Stanley in 1982, therefore depict a country that he did not visit and were careful copies of watercolours made by professionals from sketches they had executed in the field twenty years earlier.

The Tent Site, Mount Hekla

Girtin’s version of Cleveley’s watercolour made following Banks’ 1772 tour (see source image above) is an uncomplicated copy, reproducing tiny details such as the birds in the sky and the gestures of the figures, as well as following broader effects such as the skyscape and the distribution of the light in the foreground. The young artist was employed to produce a copy of a scene that complemented another watercolour made by Dayes, which showed Stanley’s visit to the highly active volcano of Hekla in the south of Iceland (figure 1), and unlike his master’s work this required no great imaginative engagement with the subject. Indeed, given that Girtin’s copy dates from 1790 and thus predates the Dayes view, it may have suggested to the patron that such a composition would be a good way to commemorate his own expedition to the volcano, especially as the privations of the trip up to the snow-clad mountain meant that neither party made a visual record of the latter parts of their ascent, where the cold winds, intense heat and sulphurous fumes challenged the parties at every step. As Banks noted, there could be no easily gathered visual record of ‘Scenes of ashes & desolation’, which he described as ‘almost inconceivable’; Cleveley instead portrayed the exhausted party returning cold and tired, with Banks the figure in the long coat to the right with the snow-clad volcano in the distance (Bonehill, 2014, p.21).

Dayes’ rather more relaxed view of Stanley’s party resting after their ascent to Hekla reflects the different circumstances of the trip. Back in 1772, Banks had been the first traveller to the area after eruptions that had radically changed the landscape over the course of two years of violent volcanic activity. The landscape is therefore dominated by layers of lava and ash that were laid down by the cataclysmic activity of 1766–68, and it is not surprising that this elemental scene, stripped of vegetation, was noted by one of Banks’ party as being in ‘every prospect dreary and horrible to look at’ (Bonehill, 2014, p.21). Copying effects and details was an important part of Girtin’s early training, but, aside from the opportunity it offered to develop this skill, it is difficult to imagine an exercise in landscape less suited to a future career portraying British scenery.

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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