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Works Thomas Girtin

The Albion Mills: Colour Study for the Eidometropolis, Section One

(?) 1801

Primary Image: TG1851: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Albion Mills: Colour Study for the 'Eidometropolis', Section One, (?) 1801, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 32.8 × 53.8 cm, 12 ⅞ × 21 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.24).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Albion Mills: Colour Study for the Eidometropolis, Section One
(?) 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
32.8 × 53.8 cm, 12 ⅞ × 21 ⅛ in

‘No 23’ top left, on the back; ‘The Albion buildings / by Girtin’ lower right, on the back, not in Thomas Girtin’s hand

Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work; Study for a Panorama
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; London and Environs; Wind and Water Mills

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
225ii as 'Girtin's Panorama of London (Eidometropolis): Sector I'; '1797–8'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2016


John Jackson (d.1828), almost certainly from his son-in-law, John Girtin (1773–1821); his posthumous sale, Foster's, 24 April 1828, lots 342–45 as 'unfinished Views of London'; bought by 'Colnaghi'; Henry Peter Standly (1782–1844); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 16 April 1845, lot 398, ‘coloured drawings, views of London, the drawings taken on the spot which afterward served to paint the large panorama’; bought by 'C. Hall' £5 15s; Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

London, 1973, no.190; Manchester, 1975, no.29; Norwich, 1977, L41 as ’The Albion Mills after the Fire’; London, 1985, no.82f; London, 1988a, no.34; London, 1993, no.148; London, 2002, no.149


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.36 as 'The Albion Mills after the Fire'; Whitley, 1924, fig.7; Mayne, 1949, pp.61–62, p.95; Pragnell, 1968, p.20; Smith, 2018, pp.46–48

About this Work

This colour study, focusing on the partly ruined Albion Mills adjacent to Blackfriars Bridge, was made by Girtin in preparation for the painting of his 360-degree panorama of London, which opened to the public in August 1802 as the Eidometropolis. Following the completion of the outline drawing of the first of the seven sections (TG1850), which fixed the positions of the buildings from his viewpoint on the roof of the Albion Place Terrace (see TG1850 figure 1), Girtin copied the sketch onto another sheet of paper, to which he then added colour (Smith, 2018, pp.45–46). This is not a sketch worked from nature, therefore, but was produced in the studio, where Girtin improvised the complex light and weather effects, which ensured the dramatic impact that marked out his version of the newly invented visual spectacle as the ‘connoisseur’s panorama’ (Monthly Magazine, October 1802, p.255).1 The recent discovery of the payments made to ‘his men employed in painting the picture of London’ has made it clear that this and the other four surviving colour studies were made as guides for specialist scene painters to add the colour to the monumental circular canvas, measuring ‘1944 square feet’ (about 180 square metres) – that is, 18 ft high (5.5 m) with a circumference of 108 ft (5.5 × 33 m) (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).2 Another recent discovery, a newspaper advertisement, actually goes as far as to show that the panorama was ‘taken … from Drawings painted by Mr. Thos. Girtin’ (Morning Chronicle, 14 October 1801). How much of the painting was undertaken by Girtin is not clear, therefore, but it may be that he only worked on the final details, and the foreground, which is left unfinished in this section, was perhaps improvised on the canvas. Newspaper reports mention that this area was the location of a boxing contest attended by numerous spectators, and it is possible that this was Girtin’s late contribution to the canvas, replacing the figures shown in the pencil drawing (Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 24 October 1802). 

The function of the colour studies as models for others to work from in a complex division of labour does not detract from their intrinsic aesthetic worth. In fact, knowing that the sky, for instance, was painted in the studio makes its freshness and apparent spontaneity all the more impressive. A complex and varied atmospheric effect that begins, as here, with a broken sky in the views south of the Thames and turns into a storm over the City in section six (TG1859) could not have been captured in seven on-the-spot studies, and it must have been invented in the studio to create a coherent image from the sudden shifts and vagaries of the English climate. This sheet contains other evidence too of the way in which the artist was able to improvise seemingly naturalistic details in a studio work. Each of the vacant windows in the ruined facade, which are left untouched in the pencil drawing, is here filled with a series of vignettes that are deeply satisfying in abstract terms but also reveal glimpses of the ruined interior that help to create a sense of involvement for the viewer that is not granted to the figures on the ground. 

The support employed for all of the colour studies for the panorama has been identified by the paper historian Peter Bower as a white laid writing paper that was made by James Whatman the Younger (1741–98) at the Turkey Mill, Maidstone (Smith, 2002b, p.194; Bower, Report).

(?) 1801

The Albion Mills: Outline Study for the ‘Eidometropolis’, Section One


(?) 1801

Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral: Outline Study for the ‘Eidometropolis’, Section Six


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 This highly informative review is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 – Item 3).
  2. 2 The financial records of the artist's brother John Girtin (1773–1821) include the income he received from the Eidometropolis as well as the expenses he incurred. They are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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