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Works Thomas Girtin

Paris: View over the Rooftops towards Montmartre

1801 - 1802

Primary Image: TG1895: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Paris: View over the Rooftops towards Montmartre, 1801–02, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 16.9 × 23.7 cm, 6 ⅝ × 9 ¼ in. British Museum, London (1991,0406.60).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Paris: View over the Rooftops towards Montmartre
1801 - 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
16.9 × 23.7 cm, 6 ⅝ × 9 ¼ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; Paris and Environs

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


Christie’s, 9 April 1991, lot 112, £18,700; bought by the Museum, 1991

Exhibition History

London, 2002, no.175; London, 2013, no.2


Bower, 2002, p.141

About this Work

This colour sketch shows a view over an anonymous set of rooftops to the hill of Montmartre, with its windmills and the church of Saint-Pierre prominent in the middle. We know where Girtin lodged during his stay in Paris (from late November 1801 to late April 1802) from police records, as all visitors needed a ‘permis de séjour’. Both of his addresses, in the Rue de Malte and the Rue Grenelle Saint-Honoré, are located a few kilometres south of Montmartre, and so it is possible that this sketch shows the view looking north from the window of one of those lodgings.1 The elevated viewpoint, combined with the prominence of the roofs, means that the sketch resembles some of the larger studies that Girtin made for his London panorama, the Eidometropolis (such as TG1853). However, although there is some evidence that Girtin had thoughts of producing a panorama of Paris, it is highly unlikely that this informal study was related to that project in any way. A view from a window can, by definition, never result in a view covering more than 180 degrees, and, in any case, this scene is noticeably more compressed than comparable city views by Girtin. For an English landscape artist with no French who arrived in the depths of winter, a view across the crowded city from the upper floor of a modest domestic dwelling was perhaps the nearest it was possible to get to sketching from nature. The more compelling comparisons are with the rooftop views painted by the Welsh artist Thomas Jones (1742–1803) from his rooms in Naples, though there is no question of Girtin having seen or been influenced by them.

The paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin for this sketch as a white wove paper, manufactured by an unknown French maker (Smith, 2002b, p.141; Bower, Report). Noting the discolouration of the edge and the form of the top right corner, Bower has suggested that the sheet may once have been a page from a pocketbook. No other drawings are on a sheet of the same dimensions, however, and there is no evidence that the artist made use of a sketchbook at this or any other period in his career. A number of Girtin’s smaller pencil sketches of scenes in Paris were made on odd scraps of paper and reused letters, and I suspect that this sheet may have been a one-off as well. The artist clearly took insufficient materials with him to Paris, no doubt because the main purpose of the trip, at least initially, was to find a venue for the display of the London panorama, and other projects were developed only after his efforts to that end were unsuccessful.

A View on the Seine

A very fluid sketch, said to be a view on the river Seine and worked on something like the same scale as the Montmartre view, has also been attributed to Girtin (see figure 1). There seems to be little justification for this, though, and Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak did not include it in their catalogue of the artist’s watercolours (Girtin and Loshak, 1954). The use of an inflexible pen line to bound a large area of unmodulated wash in the middle ground used to represent the waterfront buildings is particularly alien to Girtin’s practise.

(?) 1801

Westminster and Lambeth: Outline Study for the ‘Eidometropolis’, Section Three


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Archives Nationales, Paris, F 7 2231, p.89 r and v

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