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Works Thomas Girtin

The Coast of Dorset, with Lyme Regis Below

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG1250: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Coast of Dorset, with Lyme Regis Below, (?) 1797, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on a mount of wove paper, 22.2 × 43.3 cm, 8 ¾ × 17 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.150).

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

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • The Coast of Dorset, with Lyme Regis Below
Date
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on a mount of wove paper
Dimensions
22.2 × 43.3 cm, 8 ¾ × 17 in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Panoramic Format; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Collection
Versions
The Coast of Dorset, with Lyme Regis Below (TG1251)
Catalogue Number
TG1250
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002

Provenance

Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911) (lent to London, 1875); by a settlement to his sister, Mary Hog Barnard (née Girtin) (1828–99); her sale, Christie’s, 31 May 1886, lot 55 as 'Lyme Regis'; bought by 'Murray', £7 17s; ... F. T. Love; his sale, Sotheby's, 11 May 1966, lot 190 as 'Lyme Regis'; Spink & Son Ltd, London; bought from them by Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1967; presented to the Center, 1975 (Tom Girtin (1913–94) thought that the work came from the artist's studio)

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.9 as ’Lyme Regis. (Unfinished)’; New York, 1972, no.95; Manchester, 1975, no.37; New Haven, 1977, no.115; New Haven, 1982, II.4. as c.1797; New Haven, 1986a, no.86 as ’c.1801’; London, 2002, no.108

Bibliography

Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.209 as 'Untraced ... Lyme Regis ... Unfinished'; Snelgrove, 1968, p.22; Ushenko, 1979, pp.299–300; Morris, 1986, p.17, pp.22–23; Smith, 2002b, p.143; YCBA Online as 'Lyme Regis, Dorset' (Accessed 15/09/2022)

About this Work

This fine on-the-spot colour sketch of the Dorset Coast, with Lyme Regis shown below, was almost certainly executed on Girtin’s West Country tour in the autumn of 1797. Girtin is documented as having been in Exeter in early November, and it seems that his visit there, to sketch an interior view of the cathedral, was preceded by a journey along the Dorset coast that took in Weymouth and Abbotsbury, as well as Lyme Regis and its environs, which was the subject of another on-the-spot drawing (TG1252) (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 Girtin produced a large-scale studio watercolour from this colour sketch of the view looking down to the port and fashionable resort of Lyme (TG1251), and, together with the two inland views that he also painted in the aftermath of the tour (TG1253 and TG1254), it constitutes Girtin’s first significant exploration of the panoramic mode. The existence of three studio works of Lyme subjects suggests that the artist may have visited the area having first secured a commission, possibly from a local patron. Consequently, we must be cautious in describing this sketch and similar views produced on the West Country tour (such as TG1281) simply as evidence of Girtin’s interest in coastal scenery in general and its significance for the development of his panoramic compositions in particular. This is even more the case if we remember that the finished watercolour executed from this sketch noticeably compresses the composition, whilst the sketch itself is actually patterned on a view by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that is certainly not panoramic, Fano on the Adriatic (see source image TG0708). One of the outline drawings by Cozens that Girtin, together with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), transformed into a watercolour for Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) at around this date thus shows a similar coastal scene viewed from above (TG0708). Fano on the Adriatic provides a striking precedent for the articulation of a receding hilly coastline as a series of strong diagonals, suggesting that however much Girtin may have been attracted to the less conventional opportunities that such scenery opened up, a view along a coastline was not inherently panoramic. Another coastal view by Cozens, Mare Morto, near Naples (see figure 1), seen from an elevated position – a watercolour that Girtin would have known as it was in the collection of his early patron John Henderson (1764–1843) – further illustrates that it was to the earlier master that Girtin looked when developing a new approach to such scenery.

Mare Morto, near Naples, with Procida and Ischia in the Distance

The date of this work has been the subject of some conjecture in the past, with Susan Morris arguing that it and the comparable north Devon view The Estuary of the River Taw (TG1281) were produced in 1800 or 1801 on a second, putative tour of the West Country. Morris argues that the work’s ‘naturalistic freedom, concern for “pure” landscape, and thin superbly controlled washes are too sophisticated’ for a 1797 date (Morris, 1986, p.22). In the catalogue to the 2002 Girtin centenary exhibition, I argued against a second West Country tour, citing the improbability of Girtin returning to re-sketch a scene that had already been realised as a studio watercolour (TG1251) (Smith, 2002b, p.147). My opinion has since been confirmed by newly discovered documentary evidence in the form of the financial records of the artist’s brother, John Girtin (1773–1821), that places the artist in Bideford in north Devon on 21 November 1797 (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). This is a few kilometres away from the Taw estuary, and, with no firm evidence of a later visit having emerged, the stylistic argument for a 1800–1801 date for this sketch appears even more tenuous. The idea that the sketch was coloured on the spot has not proved so contentious, however. Elements shared by the Taw view and this southern Devon scene – including their limited palette, the featureless foreground with a rapidly improvised infill added with a broad brush and the general sense that the watery washes of colour were added at speed with more interest in pattern than in the landscape’s detail – all suggest that the coastal views were coloured on the spot on bright days in November. One feature of the work that puzzled me in 2002 has also been resolved. The mottled blue seen in the sky is not a result of the work’s speedy production but a consequence of the uneven sizing of the paper Girtin employed (Bower, 2003, p.106).

(?) 1797

A View near Lyme Regis

TG1252

1797 - 1798

The Coast of Dorset, with Lyme Regis Below

TG1251

1797 - 1798

A Panoramic View near Lyme Regis

TG1253

1797 - 1798

Above Lyme Regis, Looking across Marshwood Vale

TG1254

(?) 1797

The Estuary of the River Taw

TG1281

1794 - 1797

Fano, on the Adriatic Coast

TG0708

1794 - 1797

Fano, on the Adriatic Coast

TG0708

(?) 1797

The Estuary of the River Taw

TG1281

1797 - 1798

The Coast of Dorset, with Lyme Regis Below

TG1251

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  1. 1 The financial records of the artist's brother John Girtin (1773–1821) include two loans he made to Thomas Girtin during the trip. The records are transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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