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Works Thomas Girtin after Edward Dayes

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway

(?) 1791

Primary Image: TG0057: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) after Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Rochester Castle, from the River Medway, (?) 1791, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an original washline mount, 27.2 × 39.1 cm, 10 ¾ × 15 ⅜ in. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Stuart Collection. Museum purchase funded by Francita Stuart Koelsch Ulmer (2016.344).

Photo courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Stuart Collection. Museum purchase funded by Francita Stuart Koelsch Ulmer (2016.344) (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Rochester Castle, from the River Medway
(?) 1791
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an original washline mount
27.2 × 39.1 cm, 10 ¾ × 15 ⅜ in
Mount Dimensions
37.5 × 49.5 cm, 14 ¾ × 19 ½ in

'Girtin fecit.' lower right on the original mount, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Dover and Kent; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2014


Possibly Greenwood, 25 January 1792, lot 69 as ‘Rochester castle, and bridge’, £2 18s; ... private collection, England; Andrew Clayton-Payne, 2013–16; bought by the Museum, 2016

About this Work

The discovery in 2013 of an unrecorded early work by Girtin in perfect condition and with its original signed washline mount adds significantly to our understanding of the apprentice artist’s development in the studio of his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). Of particular significance is the fact that the work can be linked with some degree of certainty to a sale at Greenwood’s auction house on 25 January 1792, which included a drawing by Girtin, ‘Framed and Glazed’, of ‘Rochester castle, and bridge’ (Exhibitions: Greenwood, 25 January 1792, lot 69). This and six other watercolours by Girtin were consigned to auction by Dayes, who, as an early biographer noted, ‘treated him as a mere means of making money’ (Thornbury, 1862, vol.1, p.102). Dayes’ belief that the watercolours of his sixteen-year-old apprentice had a significant commercial value, equal to his own, stemmed, no doubt, from the high quality of this work, which shows how Girtin had already mastered the various elements of his master’s practice. In fact, features such as the attractive patterning in the water, the broken, fluid treatment of the clouds, and the flashes of sunlight that enliven the stone of the castle and bridge, all realised in simple muted palette, illustrate how Girtin had even begun to put his own twist on his master’s style.

Rochester Bridge and Castle

Girtin, as a London-based apprentice, would not have been able to travel to Rochester and he would therefore have had to base his watercolour on the work of another artist. As with many early works, such as Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear (TG0012), this meant a sketch by Dayes. A later watercolour by Dayes in the more summary style he deployed for smaller topographical works employs the same composition (see figure 1), and this, in turn, was presumably also based on the untraced source referenced by Girtin.1 The fact that Girtin includes more of the buildings on both banks of the Medway confirms that it was not based on Dayes’ watercolour but an untraced sketch. Dayes’ composition, which shows an oblique view of the bridge cut by a building in the foreground so that only half of its length is visible, has the effect of bringing the main subject into greater prominence, and this approach proved to be highly influential with a generation of artists, including Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). Girtin himself used it as the basis for a number of later works, not least for his celebrated view of Durham Castle (TG1075).

The very fine condition of the watercolour, testament to Dayes’ technical knowledge and abilities as a teacher, extends to the original washline mount, which has survived changes in fashion in the display of drawings. The artist’s signature, with its rare use of the Latin term ‘fecit’, meaning ‘Girtin made it’, illustrates that the mount was an integral part of the work’s conception, and this is confirmed by the manner in which areas of colour in the foreground stray onto the paper support. In other words, the watercolour was mounted before work was completed and it would have appeared with this support even when framed and glazed at the 1792 sale. Washline mounts such as that seen here were increasingly replaced with simple cream surrounds from the middle of the nineteenth century as it was felt that a neutral area around a watercolour provided more of an opportunity to appreciate the formal qualities of the work.


Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear


1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 A recent auction included a drawing attributed to William Alexander (1767–1816) which bears a startling resemblance to Dayes’ composition (Roseberry’s, 29 March 2023, lot 121). The likelihood is that the drawing was copied from Dayes’ watercolour and that it is not by Alexander, but it is not entirely out of the question that it is the original sketch by Girtin’s master.

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