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Works Thomas Girtin after Sir George Howland Beaumont

The Coast at Holywell, near Cartmel

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1579: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753–1827), The Coast at Holywell, near Cartmel, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 33 × 53 cm, 13 × 20 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive, PA-F03343-0009 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Artist's source: Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753–1827), The Coast at Holywell, near Cartmel from the Environs of Keswick Album, 2 August 1798, graphite and watercolour on paper, 13.5 × 19.8 cm, 5 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 7 ¾ in. Wordsworth Grasmere (GRMDC.B376.5).

Photo courtesy of The Wordsworth Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753-1827)
  • The Coast at Holywell, near Cartmel
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
33 × 53 cm, 13 × 20 ⅞ in

‘From a sketch by Sir George Beaumont’ on the back

Object Type
Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; The Lake District

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue; Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive


Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827); then by descent to Sir George Howland Francis Beaumont, 12th Baronet (1924–2011); his sale, Sotheby’s, 16 March 1978, lot 93 as 'The Shore of Derwentwater near Keswick, Cumberland, with a Storm Coming On', unsold; then by descent


Herrmann and Owen, 1973, p.4 as 'Coast Scene'

About this Work

The Coast at Holywell, near Cartmel

This watercolour, which has hitherto been known as ‘The Shore of Derwentwater near Keswick’, actually shows the rugged coast at Holywell in Cumbria, near Cartmel. It is one of eight watercolours, of various sizes, that Girtin produced for the well-known collector Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827) from the amateur’s own on-the-spot monochrome sketches (see the source image above). The subject of the scene has been correctly identified from another drawing of the same stretch of coastline that is inscribed ‘Holywell near Cartmel Thursday Aug. 2 1798’ (see figure 1). Seven of Girtin’s works made for Beaumont show scenes in the Lake District, which helped to persuade some earlier writers to erroneously conclude that Girtin had visited the popular tourist destination himself, though in fact they are all copied from sketches made by Beaumont on the same tour. All but one of these are contained in an album now in the collection of the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere. As here, all of Girtin’s watercolours are considerably larger than the models on which they are based, and they are further united by the fact that, whilst they employ a broader palette than Beaumont’s on-the-spot drawings, they do not significantly depart from the sketch aesthetic of their sources. 

This latter point is worth stressing because it helps to substantiate the manner in which the significance of Beaumont’s role in Girtin’s career has been inflated. The eight sketch-like watercolours commissioned by Beaumont around 1799–1800, though they clearly mark an advance on the amateur’s efforts in terms of spatial veracity and compositional clarity, are collectively the result of no more than a few days’ labour at the most, and they required little imaginative or technical input from the artist. Furthermore, Beaumont’s importance for Girtin’s career has been exaggerated by the persistent myth that the patron owned as many as ‘thirty drawings in water-colours by Girtin’ and that he ‘advised’ his young protégé, John Constable (1776–1837), to ‘study’ them ‘as examples of great breadth and truth’ (Fleming-Williams, 1990, p.77, quoting Leslie, 1845, p.6). The latter part of the statement may indeed be true, but the figure of thirty was almost certainly made up of the eight works discussed here plus the set of twenty Paris aquatints that Beaumont is now known to have acquired in 1803 – that, is after the artist’s death (Smith, 2017–18, p.34, n.63). Far from being the result of Beaumont’s generous patronage, it strikes me that what we might be looking at in this case, as with the other seven watercolour ‘sketches’, is the outcome of a lesson conducted by the professional artist using the amateur’s drawing as the basis of a demonstration of the principles of ‘breadth and truth’. Whether or not this was precisely the case, I am sure that the works were created in the patron’s home and that Girtin’s practice therefore briefly reverted to something like his earlier employment by other, albeit less talented, amateurs, including Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) and James Moore (1762–99).

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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