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Works Thomas Girtin

Portrait Study of a Man, Said to Be the Artist George Barret the Younger

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1517: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Portrait Study of a Man, Said to Be the Artist George Barret the Younger, 1798–99, graphite on laid paper (watermark: Britannia), 20.5 × 16 cm, 8 ⅛ × 6 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Portrait Study of a Man, Said to Be the Artist George Barret the Younger
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite on laid paper (watermark: Britannia)
20.5 × 16 cm, 8 ⅛ × 6 ¼ in

‘T. Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin; ‘Barrett / Landscape Painter’ lower left, in a later hand

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Figure Study

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
219 as 'Sketch Portrait of a Man'; 'c. 1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2004


Paul Oppé (1878–1957), acquired 1945; given to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); the 'property of a Lady'; her sale, Sotheby’s, 13 November 1997, lot 49, unsold; Sotheby’s, 14 July 2004, lot 35; Rosebery’s, 16 October 2008, lot 117 as 'Portrait of a gentleman', unsold


Oppé, 1957–59, p.97, no.2301

About this Work


This portrait study of an unknown man was signed by Girtin, and sometime later ‘Barrett Landscape Painter’ was added by another hand. This presumably refers to George Barret the Younger (1767–1842) rather than his father, also called George, who died in 1784. However, even so, this appears to be a mistake, as Barret’s self-portrait from about 1795 bears no resemblance, either in terms of age or facial type, to the man depicted here (see figure 1). Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak also noted that the man shown here appears to be considerably older than Barret, and they suggested that the sketch may instead represent the artist’s father-in-law, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843), and it is surely not stretching credulity to imagine that his name might have been inscribed on the drawing and that this was misread at a later date (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.163). No likeness of Borrett is known to exist, but, since we now know that he was born in 1756, it is fair to say that this portrait study is not inconsistent with a man in his early to mid-forties, and this was certainly the opinion of Paul Oppé (1878–1957) who bequeathed the drawing to Thomas Girtin (Oppé Archive, APO/6/7/2).

Girtin married Mary Ann Borrett (1781–1843) in October 1800, but the artist must have known her father from at least a year or so earlier, when the prosperous city goldsmith commissioned a number of watercolours from him (such as TG1413 and TG1414). These depict various rural properties in Essex that the patron had bought as an investment, and if this drawing does indeed show Borrett it may have been created at this time. However, the limited number of figure studies executed by Girtin include a high percentage of family members engaged in domestic tasks and, as the artist did not study at the schools of the Royal Academy, sketching the figure tended to be a social activity separate from his professional activity as a landscape painter. In this case, it is to be remembered that Girtin gave his address in the catalogue of the Royal Academy’s exhibition in 1800 as Borrett’s home at 11 Scott’s Place, Islington, and it appears that he lived there with his wife for a short time at least. If the drawing does indeed depict the artist’s father-in-law, it is most likely that such an informal study was again produced in a domestic context. Certainly, this is a more probable scenario than anything to do with Barret the landscape painter, who is not known to have had any links or associations with Girtin.

(?) 1799

Pinckney’s Farm, Radwinter


(?) 1799

Turver’s Farm, Wimbish


by Greg Smith

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