For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin after (?) Edward Dayes

Rochester, from the River Medway


Primary Image: TG0015: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after (?) Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Rochester, from the River Medway, 1791, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 13.4 × 18.8 cm, 5 ¼ × 7 ⅜ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1139).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Rochester, from the River Medway
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
13.4 × 18.8 cm, 5 ¼ × 7 ⅜ in

‘Thos. Girtin. 1791’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

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

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
6 as 'View of Rochester'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Edward Coles (Davies, 1924 and Binyon, 1933); bought from him by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970, presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1953a, no.45; Sheffield, 1953, no.35; Leeds, 1958, no.39; London, 1962a, no.113; Reading, 1969, no.19; New Haven, 1986a, no.3


Davies, 1924, p.25, pl.1; Binyon, 1933, p.104; Binyon, 1944, p.93; Mayne, 1949, p.25; Girtin, 1952, p.112; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.50-51

About this Work


From the bank of the river Medway looking south west, the main monuments of the city of Rochester form a line from left to right: the cathedral, the eleventh-century castle keep and the medieval stone bridge with its eleven arches. There is no possibility that Girtin travelled to Rochester in the early years of his apprenticeship to Edward Dayes (1763–1804), and he almost certainly based his composition on an untraced sketch by his master. Dayes later painted an oil of the same view (figure 1); although the cathedral is not visible to the right, the compositions are in other respects close, and there is no doubt that both were made after the same sketch by Girtin’s master on a trip to the city, probably in the late 1780s. There are differences, however, and two are worth touching upon. Firstly, and very presciently, Girtin in one of his earliest dated works created a more panoramic scene than the more artfully composed view of his master by including the cathedral to the left and by not adding a framing tree to the right. Secondly, Girtin lowered the hill on which his figures are positioned, with the result that the river, as it meanders into the distance, is out of keeping with the viewpoint – a case, therefore, of altering one element of the composition without adjusting the consequences elsewhere. A print titled Rochester from Frindsbury Hill by Samuel Ireland (1744–1800) for his Picturesque Views, on the Medway, depicts the same view, neatly illustrating the point not only that Girtin’s low and flat foreground is fabricated but also that the scene in general could not have been derived from an on-the-spot sketch.

Girtin produced as many as four watercolour views of Rochester during his apprenticeship to Dayes and all of them were almost certainly made after his master’s sketches, including Rochester Cathedral and Castle, from the North East (TG0076) and Rochester Castle, from the River Medway (TG0057), as well as a larger version of this composition, Rochester, from the North (TG0071). Although only Rochester, from the River Medway is dated – ‘1791’ is inscribed to the right of the drawing – the inclusion of two Rochester views by Girtin at an auction at Greenwood’s in January 1792 (lot 69 – ‘Rochester castle, and bridge’ and lot 72 – ‘Rochester castle’) suggests that Dayes, who consigned the works to the sale, saw a commercial opportunity in his young pupil’s work (Exhibitions: Greenwood, 25 January 1792). Just as significantly, Dayes’ sketches of the bridge, castle and cathedral in various combinations provided the fifteen-year-old Girtin with a series of picturesque compositions that collectively demonstrate an extraordinary level of artistic skill and maturity, even as he copied many of his master’s stylistic traits. This particular piece is smaller in scale than the other Rochester subjects, and because it is dated 1791 there is a temptation to regard it as simply less advanced. However, it would be more accurate to characterise it as a different type of commodity that was smaller, less fully worked up and therefore more suited to the lower end of the market for topographical subjects, and this was a feature of Dayes’ work that Girtin was to develop throughout his career.

1792 - 1793

Rochester Cathedral and Castle, from the North East


(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway


1791 - 1792

Rochester, from the North


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.