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Works Thomas Girtin

The Cain Falls (Pistyll Cain), near Dolgellau

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1320: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Cain Falls (Pistyll Cain), near Dolgellau, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour, bodycolour, scratching out, stopping out and gum arabic on laid paper, 51.4 × 64.3 cm, 20 ¼ × 25 ¼ in. Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (1953P227).

Photo courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Cain Falls (Pistyll Cain), near Dolgellau
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour, bodycolour, scratching out, stopping out and gum arabic on laid paper
51.4 × 64.3 cm, 20 ¼ × 25 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
North Wales; Waterfall Scenery

The Cain Falls (Pistyll Cain), near Dolgellau (TG1319)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
322ii as 'Cayne Waterfall, Merioneth'; '1799'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Leggatt Brothers, London, 1948; James Leslie Wright (1862–1954); presented to the Museum, 1953

Exhibition History

London, 1949, no.196; Birmingham, 1970, no.25; Birmingham, 1980, no.34

About this Work

This large studio watercolour depicting the Cain Falls near Dolgellau is based on an on-the-spot colour sketch that Girtin made on his trip to North Wales in the summer of 1798 (TG1319). The sketch is only marginally smaller than the finished watercolour, and I suspect that the artist would not have invested so much time and effort into producing it, or have made what seems to have been something of a detour to reach the most southerly point of his trip, unless he had secured a commission for a major work beforehand. This is not to say that Girtin could not have travelled to the site of his own volition. However, it is more likely that he was directed there by a patron who had either visited previously or knew about the picturesque location from one of the number of enthusiastic descriptions of the site in the tourist literature that proliferated in the 1790s, and the fact that there does not appear to have been any precedent for Girtin’s depiction of the falls only makes the latter more probable. The account of the Revd John Evans (1768–c.1812), who visited Cain Falls on his Tour through North Wales, in the Year 1798, is typical of the experience of travellers who sought out one of the region’s most picturesque waterfalls, noting the approach through a ‘fairy region’ of ‘sylvan shades’, from where the falls could be heard ‘in an angry roar … like distant thunder’. Arriving at the bottom via a ‘truly alpine bridge’, Evans finally saw the water descend through ‘the rocky fissures’ and a ‘thick wooded glen, shaded by ancient oak’; the effect, he concluded, was an ‘enchanting style of romantic beauty’ (Evans, 1804, pp.105–6). Girtin almost certainly did not read such accounts and thus would not have been influenced by them when he fashioned his image, but the point is that in order either to satisfy the expectation of a patron or to create a successful commodity, he had to embody such sentiments. Girtin achieves something of the immersive experience described by Evans by adopting a viewpoint close to the falls and by employing an almost square format that allows for just a glimpse of the sky, so that the elemental constituents of rock, vegetation and water are compressed into a confined space.

The watercolour has faded badly over the years, suffering the same fate as many of the artist’s largest works that were designed to be framed and glazed for display on the wall (such as TG1554). Nonetheless, it remains a useful indicator of Girtin’s style when working on a large scale, with the paint surface scratched into to form highlights, whilst other details are created with the addition of opaque bodycolour. The artist’s standard repertoire of effects is further enhanced by the extensive use of stopping-out, and this technique features prominently in other larger Welsh scenes, including The Great Hall, Conwy Castle (TG1306) and The Ogwen Falls (TG1330). The technique of using a wax-based resist, which might be brushed in, washed over and then removed by gently heating to leave negative areas as highlights, was published by the artist Francis Nicholson (1753–1844) in 1799, and it appears that Girtin was keen to try the process out for himself as almost all of the works that employ stopping-out date from that year.

(?) 1798

The Cain Falls (Pistyll Cain), near Dolgellau


1800 - 1801

On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey


1798 - 1799

The Great Hall, Conwy Castle


1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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