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Works Thomas Girtin

On the River Medway, with a Boatyard, Beached Vessels and Hulks

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1425: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), On the River Medway, with a Boatyard, Beached Vessels and Hulks, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on paper, 10 × 34 cm, 4 × 13 ⅜ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • On the River Medway, with a Boatyard, Beached Vessels and Hulks
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
10 × 34 cm, 4 × 13 ⅜ in

‘on the Medway. T. Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Dover and Kent

Shipping on the River Medway (TG1754)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
336 as 'On the Medway ... Late outdoor work'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2018


Marmaduke Robinson; his sale, Christie’s, 4 April 1884, lot 117, £3 15s; Sir Bruce Stirling Ingram (1877–1963); then by descent to Michael Ingram (1917–2005); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 8 December 2005, lot 150, £14,400

Exhibition History

London, 1952, no.72; London, 1963b, no.52

About this Work

On the face of it, this watercolour appears to be a straightforward example of one of Girtin’s on-the-spot sketches, which, because it is signed and inscribed with the location of the river scene, has none of the problems relating to its attribution and subject that bedevil so many of his drawings. The fact that the composition was realised as a large, panoramic studio watercolour in 1801 (TG1754) confirms its status as a sketch made in the field, as do the use of a limited palette of colours and the evident speed of execution, though the former is complicated by the work’s slightly faded condition. The only problem occurs when we try to date the work, for, other than this drawing, there is no evidence that Girtin ever visited this part of Kent, and all of his Medway scenes were painted from the sketches of other artists at the outset of his career. For instance, the views of Rochester (such as TG0057) were all made from compositions by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), whilst the shipping and boat-building scenes on the Medway appear to have been created at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) from sketches by the amateur John Henderson (1764–1843) (such as TG0833). The answer for Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak was simple; since the work was evidently made on the spot, it followed that the artist must have travelled to the Medway sometime around 1799–1800 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.180). However, although there is logic to that conclusion, I am not convinced by the argument. Girtin was not a great traveller, and one-off subjects such as the view of Dovedale (TG1751) invariably turn out to have been worked up from a sketch by another artist, rather than being evidence of a hitherto undocumented journey. Girtin and Loshak managed to fabricate no fewer than two Lake District trips on the basis of such false deductions (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.41). In the case of this drawing, therefore, I am inclined to jettison one of my overarching principles – namely, that it is always best to look for the simple explanation for a problem – and suggest instead that the work was actually copied from another artist and coloured in the studio by Girtin for sale as an example of his sketching practice. If this was the case, the signature makes more sense because an on-the-spot drawing made with the production of a studio watercolour in mind does not need its author to be identified, whilst that is precisely what a collector with an interest in an artist’s sketches requires. The argument may be a little counterintuitive, but, looking across the span of Girtin’s career, it is more likely that the artist copied the work of another than that he undertook a costly and time-consuming journey that resulted in such a limited number of outcomes as here.


Having questioned the status of the work, it is only reasonable to look at its subject, not least because the studio watercolour that was produced from it was said by Girtin and Loshak to show a West Country scene; they titled it ‘Devonport’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.192). However, although the work is closest in feel to the coastal scenes that the artist produced subsequent to his visit to Devon and Bristol in the autumn of 1797, and it may have been produced as a pair with a similarly sized view of Plymouth (TG1753), the view does appear to depict the river Medway. Indeed, the presence in the middle ground of what seem to be hulks, the decommissioned ships that were used at the time as prisons, suggests that we are looking at a scene near Chatham. This is supported by a view of the Medway port attributed to the amateur Sir George Bulteel Fisher (1764–1834) (see figure 1), which includes the same combination of hulks, larger moored vessels and wooden buildings on the shore, together with a similar long, low line of distant hills.


Shipping on the River Medway


(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway


1795 - 1796

A Boat-Builder’s Shed, Possibly on the River Medway


1800 - 1801






by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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