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Works Thomas Girtin



Primary Image: TG1753: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Plymouth, 1801, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 24.4 × 62.3 cm, 9 ⅝ × 24 ½ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1934.133).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Plymouth
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper
24.4 × 62.3 cm, 9 ⅝ × 24 ½ in

‘Girtin. 1801’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Visible Fold in the Paper
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Panoramic Format; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2017


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911); then by a settlement to his sister, Mary Hog Barnard (née Girtin) (1828–99); then by descent to Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931); his widow, Isabella Barnard; bequeathed to the Museum, 1934


Brown, 1982, p.340, no.742

About this Work

This badly faded panoramic watercolour depicts the view west looking across the river Tamar, known at this point as the Hamoaze, to Mount Edgcumbe, which is the prominent house that can be seen on the hill opposite amongst the trees. It therefore replicates part of the view shown in two watercolours that were painted following Girtin’s visit to the port in the autumn of 1797, which focus on the Marine Barracks at Stonehouse (TG1274 and TG1455). To take this particular view, Girtin would have needed to walk only a few hundred metres beyond the barracks, and from here the picturesque activities of the harbour would not have been interrupted by the utilitarian straight lines of the new buildings, which were the subject of the commission from The Copper-Plate Magazine (see print after TG1274) that appears to have brought him to Plymouth in the first place (Walker, 1792–1802). For that reason, I am inclined to disagree with the suggestion made by Susan Morris that views such as this were gathered on a later, and as far as I can see wholly undocumented, trip to the West Country (Morris, 1986, p.22). Part of the rationale for this suggestion has, in any case, been discredited by the discovery that what appears to be the pair of this work, Shipping on the River Medway (TG1754), does not in fact show Devonport, as was once thought. Though still clearly a pair, with the same unusual dimensions and comparable signatures and dates, the views are linked by their naval subject rather than topography – though, ironically, Devonport would actually be a more accurate title for this work than Plymouth.

Sadly, this watercolour too has faded and suffered significant changes in its colouring, almost certainly as a result of Girtin’s choice of materials. Of the fifteen pigments that Girtin is recorded as having used by William Henry Pyne (1770–1843), at least four are very fugitive: a blue, indigo; two yellows, gamboge and brown pink; and a purple, brown lake (Pyne, 1823a, p.67).1 In this case, the probable use of those pigments in combination, and individually as thin washes, is enough to account for the loss of the blues and greys in the sky, the reflections in the water, the reds in the building materials, and all of the greens in the vegetation. Fortunately, the strength of the composition, combined with the inclusion of details of the makeshift ship-building activities that were to be swept away during the construction of the Royal William Victualling Yard in the 1820s, is enough to maintain interest in the work, and individual motifs, if not the whole composition, remain relatively unimpaired and thus stand as records of a semi-rural industry soon to be lost.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a buff laid wrapping paper by an unknown English manufacturer (Bower, Report). This is probably the same paper that the artist employed for The Ouse Bridge, York (TG1042), The Ogwen Falls (TG1330) and York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern (TG1652).

1797 - 1798

The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth


1797 - 1798

The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth


1797 - 1798

The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth



Shipping on the River Medway


1798 - 1799

The Ouse Bridge, York


1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls


1800 - 1801

York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Pyne's ‘Rise and Progress of Painting in Water Colours’ includes a wealth of detail on Girtin’s working practice, much of it the result of watching the artist. It is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1823 – Item 1).

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