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Works Thomas Girtin

Pont y Pair, Betws-y-Coed

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1332: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Pont y Pair, Betws-y-Coed, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper, 37.6 × 52.1 cm, 14 ¾ × 20 ½ in. Tate (T00995).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Pont y Pair, Betws-y-Coed
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper
37.6 × 52.1 cm, 14 ¾ × 20 ½ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Bridges and Weirs; North Wales; Waterfall Scenery

Pont y Pair, Betws-y-Coed (TG1331)
Pont y Pair, Betws-y-Coed (TG1333)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
291i as 'Pont-y-Pair, Bettws-Y-Coed, Caernarvonshire'; '1798-9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Walter Benjamin Tiffin (1795–1877); bought from him by George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911), 16 August 1860, £12 (lent to London, 1875); then by descent to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); sold to Walker's Galleries, London, 1918; bought by Herbert Powell (1863–1950), £142; entrusted to the National Art-Collections Fund (The Art Fund), 1929; presented to the Tate Gallery, 1967


Hughes, 1931, no.66; Freeman, 2006, p.287

About this Work

This watercolour, showing the central part of the five-arched bridge over the river Llugwy at Betws-y-Coed, was produced by Girtin from a pencil drawing that he made on his tour to North Wales in the summer of 1798 (TG1331). Pont y Pair, meaning ‘the bridge over the cauldron’, was a popular subject with artists and patrons at this date, and Girtin himself painted another version of the composition on a similar generous scale (TG1333). In comparison with that work, though, this watercolour has faded to a significant degree, either as a result of the use of fugitive pigments or from long exposure to high light levels, with the result that the forms have lost their depth and the colour balance is undermined so that the earth tones predominate. Nonetheless, there is still much of interest here, including a good example of the artist changing his mind. Evidence of this can be seen in a disturbed area above the centre part of the bridge, where two figures have been scratched out and reinserted over the left-hand arch. The use of watercolour washes, which are more or less transparent, means that any such changes are liable to leave a visible trace. The work is also notable for one of Girtin’s visual puns, something that cannot be spoilt by its poor condition. Situated on the prominent rock to the right is an artist trying to catch his falling hat, dropping his palette in the process. Looked at in another way, the hat becomes an eye and the rock resembles a fish. This playful allusion to the perils of sketching from nature is not included in the original pencil drawing, and so this is not presumably what happened to Girtin during his visit to Betws-y-Coed. Nonetheless, I suspect that the image of an artist colouring on the spot was a reference to Girtin’s own practice during his visit to North Wales, and the idea that this is an oblique self-portrait is reinforced by a drawing by Henry Edridge (1768–1821) that similarly shows the artist working from nature seated on a stool (TG1923). The prominent fingerprint next to the stool does nothing to undermine the argument, nor does the evidence that Girtin added the figure at the last moment, since the colour of the rocks shows through both the artist’s clothes and the falling hat.

Pont y Pair was the subject of one of the pioneering Welsh views created by Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809) following his visit to North Wales in 1771 (see TG1333 figure 1). Employing the newly introduced aquatint technique, Sandby’s 1776 print offers an altogether more dramatic spectacle in which the starkly bare mountains and the raging torrents of water contrast with Girtin’s more sober view of the bridge. The region’s waterfalls, as much as its vaunted mountain scenery, feature heavily in both the accounts of contemporary tourists and Sandby’s prints, where the water consistently flows with a significantly greater force than in the equivalent scenes by Girtin. It seems that the weather the artist encountered in the summer of 1798, although far from ideal, was not as wet as that typically experienced by visitors.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a laid cartridge paper, made by an unknown English manufacturer, worked on the artist’s favoured wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture (Smith, 2002b, p.103; Bower, Report).

(?) 1798

Pont y Pair, Betws-y-Coed


1798 - 1799

Pont y Pair, Betws-y-Coed


(?) 1801

Thomas Girtin Sketching


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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