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Works Thomas Girtin after Claude Lorrain

Narcissus: A Landscape Adapted from a Composition by Claude Lorrain

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0878: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Claude Lorrain (1604/5–82), Narcissus: A Landscape Adapted from a Composition by Claude Lorrain, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, on an original mount with an ink line border, 33.7 × 37.8 cm, 13 ¼ × 14 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: Claude Lorrain (1604/5–82), Landscape with Narcissus and Echo, 1644, oil on canvas, 94.6 × 118.7 cm, 37 ¼ × 46 ¾ in. National Gallery, London (NG19).

Photo courtesy of The National Gallery, London (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Claude Lorrain (1604/5-1682)
Title
  • Narcissus: A Landscape Adapted from a Composition by Claude Lorrain
Date
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper, on an original mount with an ink line border
Dimensions
33.7 × 37.8 cm, 13 ¼ × 14 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Foreign Master
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Unidentified Landscape

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG0878
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2005 and 2012

Provenance

Unknown private collection, 'J.O.P.H.' as 'Landscape Composition, Possibly Harlech Castle' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; W/S Fine Art Ltd / Andrew Wyld, London, 2005; Andrew Wyld; his posthumous sale, Christie's, 10 July 2012, lot 62 as ‘"Narcissus" adapted from a composition by Claude', unsold

Exhibition History

Andrew Wyld, 2005, no.21 as by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This watercolour, which was correctly identified as the work of Girtin by Andrew Wyld in 2005, was adapted from a composition by the celebrated seventeenth-century French landscape artist Claude Lorrain (1604/5–82), known simply as Claude (see the source image above). The majority of Girtin’s adaptations of landscapes by earlier generations of Continental artists were made at the behest of a group of early patrons, and they were invariably made from engravings rather than the original paintings, which were not normally accessible to artists in an era before the foundation of public galleries. In this case, however, the print after Claude’s painting, Landscape with Narcissus and Echo, which was published by Francis Vivares (1709–80) in 1743 (see figure 1), reverses the direction of the original and, given that Girtin follows the sense of the painting, it may be that he did copy Claude’s oil after all. This is certainly possible because the painting was in the possession from around 1790 of one of Girtin’s most important patrons, Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827). It would be ironic, however, if Girtin worked from the original oil painting rather than a print, because he clearly took more liberties with his source material than was commonly the case. The composition has thus been compressed to fit a square format, and, whilst the general lines of the landscape are replicated – with the castle, for instance, in the same position – Girtin has anglicised Claude’s Italianate classical view. Both the semi-draped figure to the left (a personification of the stream) and Echo are therefore omitted, as is one of the two nymphs shown behind, and Narcissus is transformed into a cowherd accompanied by a group of animals. Though the figure still gazes at his own reflection in the water like Narcissus, the landscape is shorn of its mythological trappings, and, without knowing its source, one might be tempted to conclude that it was a British view. Indeed, in a case of life imitating art, Claude’s fantasy castle recalls the sort of Gothic Revival structure built by progressive landowners such as Richard Payne Knight (1751–1824), whose home at Downton in Herefordshire was based on the buildings depicted in the artist’s landscapes.

'Narcissus'

Further evidence of Girtin’s interest in the work of Claude comes in the form of a note in the diary of Joseph Farington (1747–1821), who records that the artist, together with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), was one of a large group who visited ‘Mr. Beckfords … to see the Altieri Claudes’ (Farington, Diary, 9 May 1799). The two compositions, Landscape with the Father of Psyche Sacrificing at the Temple of Apollo and Landscape with the Arrival of Aeneas before the City of Pallanteum (National Trust, Anglesey Abbey (NT 515656 and NT 515654)), did not noticeably influence Girtin’s work in the way that they did Turner’s. Turner made a colour sketch of the latter work by Claude (Tate Britain, Turner Bequest (LXIX 122)), produced a view of Caernarfon Castle full of his spirit (see comparative image TG1738) and in 1804 painted his own variation on the Beaumont Landscape with Narcissus and Echo (Tate Britain (T03869)).

There is no evidence that the watercolour was ever owned by Beaumont himself, and, indeed, there would not have been any reason for him to have commissioned a version of a painting that he already possessed. Moreover, on stylistic grounds the work appears to date from around 1796, which would significantly predate the watercolours that Beaumont commissioned Girtin to produce from his own sketches, such as Conwy: The Town Walls (TG1578). Being neither a copy after the work of an amateur nor a realisation of a print or outline drawing, Girtin’s watercolour does not fit readily into either of the categories of copies that the artist found a demand for in the mid-1790s, and it is difficult to relate the drawing to his practice prior to his first independent tour in the autumn of 1796. Certainly, there is no sense here, as one finds with Turner, that a reference to Claude is employed to enhance the status of the medium and enhance its capacity to communicate the grander and more dramatic aspects of British scenery. Perhaps it is best to see the work as something of an experiment, therefore, with Girtin looking to develop the possibilities of the creative copy as a commodity that might attract sales.

1800

Caernarfon Castle, from the East

TG1738

1799 - 1800

Conwy: The Town Walls

TG1578

by Greg Smith

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