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Works Thomas Girtin

On the River Taw, North Devon, Looking from Braunton Marsh towards Instow and Appledore

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1736: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), On the River Taw, North Devon, Looking from Braunton Marsh towards Instow and Appledore, (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 29.3 × 51.6 cm, 11 ½ × 20 ¼ in. National Gallery of Art, Washington (1987.27.1).

Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art Washington (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • On the River Taw, North Devon, Looking from Braunton Marsh towards Instow and Appledore
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
29.3 × 51.6 cm, 11 ½ × 20 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Samuel William Reynolds: Dealer; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Panoramic Format; River Scenery; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
318 as 'On the Exe (probably near the mouth)'; '1799'
Description Source(s)
Sale Catalogue; Gallery Website


Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835) (1803 list of works disposed of: 'Linmouth' sold with four other work for £50); bought by Elizabeth Weddell (née Ramsden) (1749–1831), December 1801; bequeathed to John Charles Ramsden (1788–1836); then by descent to Sir John Frechville Ramsden, 6th Baronet (1877–1958); his sale, Christie’s, 27 May 1932, lot 22 as 'A View at the Mouth of a River, with cottages, a woman milking a cow in the foreground'; bought by 'Thomson' of the Palser Gallery, London, £84, for Charles E. Russell; Mark Fletcher Washington; his sale, Sotheby's, 30 November 1960, lot 78 as 'A Fishing Village on an estuary at low tide, a group of cows with a milkmaid in the foreground'; bought by Frost and Reed, £2,100; Miss K. G. Robinson; her posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 21 November 1985, lot 97 as 'A Village on the River Exe', £55,000; the Leger Galleries, London, 1986; bought by the Gallery from them, 1987

Exhibition History

Leger Galleries, 1986, no.9 as ’A View on the River Taw looking from Braunton Marsh towards Instow and Appledore’; Washington, 2006, no catalogue


Sotheby’s, Art at Auction, 1985–86, p.48; Leger Galleries, 1992, p.84 as 'The River Taw, looking Towards Appledore'; Smiles and Pidgley, 1995, p.61, p.116; Smith, 2002b, pp.257–58; Chu, 2003, pp.189–90; Gallery Website as 'Village along a River Estuary in Devon', '1797/98' (Accessed 19/09/2022)

About this Work

Although this work has been said to depict a village on the river Exe, it has more recently been identified as showing a scene on the river Taw in north Devon, looking south from Braunton Marsh (Exhibitions: Leger Galleries, 1986). The village of Instow is therefore visible in the centre, seen just before the confluence with the river Torridge, with Appledore to the right. This is therefore one of three local views that were either sketched on Girtin’s visit to the north Devon coast in 1797 (TG1281) or made from drawings taken on that newly documented stop (TG1737). The recently discovered accounts of the artist’s brother, John Girtin (1773–1821), which record that he sent a £5 note to him at ‘Biddeford’ on 21 November, date Girtin’s visit to nearby Instow with some precision, therefore, and suggest that he stayed with Rowland Edward Calvert (c.1750–1813), who was living in Bideford at the time (Smith, 2017–18, pp.35–36; Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). Calvert, who was the father of the artist Edward Calvert (1799–1883), appears to have been the first owner of the view of Appledore (TG1737), and it was he who presumably commissioned the view and encouraged Girtin to explore the area. At the time of Girtin’s visit in 1797, this part of the north Devon coast was beginning to attract visitors, though poor transport links meant that it was not yet a popular destination for tourists, and, if the artist was for once in the vanguard of travellers, it was almost certainly with the support of a local patron such as Calvert.

It might be expected that a local man would have been interested in a view that carefully records some of the details of the ship-building trade, with a half-built vessel shown on the blocks to the left. However, this work was actually produced by Girtin in 1800 for Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer, and it conforms to the larger of the two standard sizes that Girtin painted for disposal on open market. A letter from Reynolds records that in October 1801 he owned ‘Drawings by Girtin … 19 Large size’ and that he valued them at ‘£7. 7 each’, whilst a later document notes that watercolours such as this sold for about £10 each (Reynolds, Letter, 1801; Reynolds, Letter, 1803).1 The latter document identifies the first owner of this drawing as Elizabeth Weddell (1749–1831), who acquired five of Girtin’s works for £50, including Lydford Castle (TG1734) and one listed as ‘Linmouth’, which is presumably this watercolour. The fact that the watercolour of Lydford had already lost its identity is telling because it is unlikely that Weddell either visited the area or knew much about the locality, and the works she acquired were likely to have been bought not for the subjects they depicted but as examples of the artist’s superior skills as an artist; certainly, she had no input into the work. Weddell is known to have owned six major watercolours as well as a proof set of the Picturesque Views in Paris, and all, excepting this work, are in excellent condition (Chancery, Income and Expenses).2 Given that they are likely to have each been treated in the same way, it is safe to assume that this watercolour has faded because of the artist’s choice of pigments rather than because it has been exposed to excessive levels of lighting. Thus, the greys and the blues of the sky and the clouds have been lost altogether, whilst the greens in the foreground and distance have also been badly compromised, though the fact that a small band in the middle ground has been relatively unaffected highlights the extraordinary degree to which the artist fitted what amounts to a greatly extended panoramic view into a conventional format.

View on the River Taw

The watercolour was copied by Julia Bennet (1775–1867), who was known as one of Girtin’s best pupils (see figure 1), and she inscribed it on the back ‘After Girtin, a very good drawing master’ (Morris, 2002a, p.257). Bennet, who is now known by her married name of Gordon, almost certainly gained access to the work through her friendship with Weddell, who was her neighbour at Beckenham in Kent. Curiously, though the copy replicates the buildings and the animals in the foreground, it omits the ships and the ship-building scene altogether.

(?) 1797

The Estuary of the River Taw


(?) 1800

Appledore, from Instow Sands


(?) 1800

Appledore, from Instow Sands


(?) 1800

Lydford Castle, from the River Lyd


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Both letters have been transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4; 1803 – Item 3).
  2. 2 A list of subscribers is included in John Girtin’s account of the income he received from the Picturesque Views in Paris, together with the expenses incurred in completing the project. They are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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