Another version of the subject, worked on the same scale, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (see figure 2). Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that it is ‘more likely to be by [John] Henderson’, though a more recent catalogue of the collection continues to list it as by Girtin (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.210; Lambourne and Hamilton, 1980, p.151). The work is very badly faded, making a definitive judgement difficult. However, although it could be a copy, perhaps after the etching (see the print after above), I am inclined to the view that it is an inferior version by Girtin compromised further by its condition, and there certainly seems no reason to attribute it to John Henderson (1764–1843).
An etching by Joseph Powell (c.1778–1840) titled ‘The Prison at Southampton’ was amongst a large group of prints given to the British Museum in 1810 by the artist William Alexander (1767–1816), who had been appointed the museum’s Keeper of Prints and Drawings in 1808. This was amongst a group of ten prints of topographical subjects in Hampshire, and, given that it is clearly after Girtin’s watercolour, this confirms that the current work was indeed the ‘View (highly finished) of the Prison at Southampton’ that was included in Alexander’s posthumous sale in 1816 (Exhibitions: Sotheby’s, 12 March 1817, lot 1215). The etching reproduces the figures and the distribution of light so closely that we can be sure that it also records the form of a sky that has long since faded from sight in the watercolour.
A Distant View of Southampton