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Works George Dance

Profile Portrait of Thomas Girtin

1798

Primary Image: TG1933: George Dance (1741–1825), Profile Portrait of Thomas Girtin, 1798, graphite and red chalk stump on wove paper, 25.3 × 19.2 cm, 10 × 7 ½ in. British Museum, London (1898,0712.21).

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

Print after: William Daniell (1769–1837), after George Dance (1741–1825), soft-ground etching, 'Thomas Girtin' for A Collection of Seventy-two Portraits of Eminent Characters Sketched from Life since the Year 1793, vol.2, no.72, 2 April 1814, 27.2 × 20.3 cm, 10 ¹¹⁄₁₆ × 8 in. British Museum, London (I,6.72).

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

Description
Creator(s)
George Dance (1741-1825)
Title
  • Profile Portrait of Thomas Girtin
Date
1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and red chalk stump on wove paper
Dimensions
25.3 × 19.2 cm, 10 × 7 ½ in
Inscription

'Geo: Dance / Augst. 28th. 1798' lower right, by George Dance

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Portrait of Thomas Girtin

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG1933
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018

Provenance

George Dance (1741–1825); then by descent to the Revd George Dance; his sale, Christie’s, 1 July 1898, lot 55; bought by 'Colnaghi', £4 10s; bought by the Museum, 1898

Exhibition History

London, 1901, B95; London, 1974a, no.196; London, 1989a, no.171; Edinburgh, 2008, no.97

Bibliography

Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.112, p.220

About this Work

This profile drawing was produced by the architect George Dance (1741–1825) as part of his leisure-time project to record the appearances of the leading artists of the day, together with other ‘Eminent Characters’. These amounted to over two hundred drawings, seventy-two of which were reproduced as soft-ground etchings and published over a period of six years as A Collection of … Portraits of Eminent Characters Sketched from Life since the Year 1793, including the profile of Girtin, which appeared in 1814 (see print after TG1933) (Daniell, 1808–14). The sketch itself was made on 28 August 1798, immediately after Girtin’s tour to Wales and following the success of his watercolours at the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy in that year. 

As Kim Sloan has noted, Girtin is just one of a number of artists depicted by Dance who were thought ‘to be sympathetic to the French Revolution in its early years’, including James Barry (1741–1806), and the ‘violent Democrat’ Thomas Banks (1735–1805) (Lloyd and Sloan, 2008, p.149). Following the lead of men such as Charles James Fox (1749–1806) and Francis Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839), Girtin began to wear his hair ‘cropped’ – that is, short and unpowdered – partly as a reference to the style of Roman republicans as depicted in their portrait busts, and partly to escape paying a tax on powder that helped to finance the war with the French. The image of Girtin as a radical is corroborated by a reference in a letter to an early patron a few months later. The antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99) was informed in a verse letter from Ange Denis Macquin (1756–1823) that: 

We’ll Talk of Girtin’s Brutus head 
And curls not bigger than a bead (Moore, Letter, 1798).1

Girtin’s adoption of the fashion seems to have been short lived, however, and his hair was noticeably longer when John Opie (1761–1807) painted his portrait, presumably around 1800 (TG1930). 

A pencil copy, made by William Daniell (1769–1837) as part of the process of transferring the drawing to the etching plate, is now in the collection of The Whitworth, Manchester (D.1995.11). 

1798

Profile Portrait of Thomas Girtin

TG1933

1800 - 1801

Sketch of Thomas Girtin’s Head

TG1930

by Greg Smith

Footnotes

  1. 1 Included in a verse letter from Ange Denis Macquin (1756–1823) to James Moore (1762–99). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1798 – Item 1).

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