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Works Thomas Girtin

Part of the Ruins of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli: The West Belvedere

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG1465: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Richard Wilson (1713/14–82), Part of the Ruins of Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli: The West Belvedere, 1794–95, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 20.4 × 16 cm, 8 × 6 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1878,1228.36).

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

Artist's source: Michael Rooker (1746–1801), after Richard Wilson (1713/14–82), etching, 'In the Villa Adriana' from Twelve Original Views in Italy, 29 January 1776, 25.3 × 18 cm, 10 × 7 ¹⁄₁₆ in. British Museum, London (1878,1228.168).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Part of the Ruins of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli: The West Belvedere
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
20.4 × 16 cm, 8 × 6 ⅜ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Italian View: Ancient Ruins

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
77 as 'In the Villa Adriana'; 1794–5
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Henderson (1764–1843); then by descent to John Henderson II (1797–1878); bequeathed to the Museum, 1878

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1975, no.8; New Haven, 2014, no.155


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.85 as 'In the Villa Adriano'; Mayne, 1949, p.95

About this Work

This watercolour of the ancient ruins of the West Belvedere at Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli was copied after an etching by Michael Rooker (1746–1801) (see the source image above), which in turn reproduced a painting by the landscape artist Richard Wilson (1713/14–82), and it was executed for one of Girtin’s most important early patrons, the amateur artist John Henderson (1764–1843). Girtin first came across Henderson at the home of another crucial early patron, Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), where he was employed, together with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), to produce watercolour copies after the outline drawings of many artists, including Henderson himself. Latterly, Henderson engaged Girtin to produce a series of watercolour copies after prints in his own collection, including groups by modern British artists such as Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) (such as TG0867) and European masters such as Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697–1768) (such as TG0898). The impression of the etching by Rooker that was copied by Girtin is now in the collection of the British Museum, where it was bequeathed by the patron’s son together with this watercolour (Wilson Online, E42).

Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli

Many writers, including contemporary critics of Girtin’s exhibited works, have commented on the importance of Wilson for the development of Girtin’s mature style, and Girtin himself is recorded as having studied the artist’s landscapes in the collection of the dramatist Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809) in 1799 (Holcroft, 1816, vol.3, p.129). However, that is rather different from producing on commission a watercolour copy of an etching after the artist, and there is little to suggest that the process had any value as a study exercise for Girtin or that it had any significant influence on his practice as a watercolourist. Indeed, the manner in which the artist has reproduced elements such as the skyscape and the figures, without any attempt to improve upon the original source, suggests that, in comparison with copies after works by Hearne (such as TG0868) and Thomas Malton the Younger (1748–1804) (such as TG0871), this work was made earlier and with little enthusiasm for a relatively mechanical task. The view of the Belvedere looking north east towards the Sabine Hills, the same view as depicted by Francis Towne (1739–1816), may have had a broader influence on Girtin’s approach to the subject of landscapes ruins, however (Towne Online, FT274). The stuccoed dwelling built on top of the Roman arcade to create a farmhouse offers a Renaissance precedent for something we see time and again in Girtin’s work: the juxtaposition of a significant ancient ruin with a lowly modern structure.

There is a second version of the watercolour copy of Rooker’s etching in the collection of Tate Britain (see figure 1), which is currently attributed by the gallery to Girtin himself. Comparing it with this watercolour, however, demonstrates its poor quality, and elements such as the figures and the treatment of the ruined masonry are so inferior as to suggest the work of an amateur artist of limited ability. It would therefore appear to be a copy by Henderson, who, as the owner of the Girtin watercolour, had access to the original, though it is noticeably of a lower standard than other copies produced by the patron, such as Melrose Abbey (see TG0868 figure 1) or The Manor House, Richmond (see TG1062 figure 1).

(?) 1795

Lanercost Priory Church: An Interior View of the Ruins from the South Transept


1797 - 1798

Venice: The Grand Canal, from Santa Maria della Carità, Looking to San Marco Basin


(?) 1795

Melrose Abbey: The View to the South Transept


1795 - 1796

London: The Royal Exchange


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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