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Works Thomas Girtin

The Conwy Valley

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1335: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Conwy Valley, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on a card mount, 23.6 × 52.6 cm, 9 ¼ × 20 ¾ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.959).

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

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • The Conwy Valley
Date
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on a card mount
Dimensions
23.6 × 52.6 cm, 9 ¼ × 20 ¾ in
Inscription

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
North Wales; Panoramic Format; River Scenery

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG1335
Girtin & Loshak Number
358 as 'The Valley of the Conway'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001

Provenance

Edward Lascelles (1764–1814); then by descent to Henry Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824–92); his sale, possibly Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 35 as 'A distant view of Harewood House' (title crossed out in the annotated catalogue in the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum); bought by 'Palser', £7; J. Palser & Sons; Edward Cohen (1816–87) (lent to London, 1875; London, 1877); then by bequest to his niece, Isabella Oswald (1838–1905); her posthumous sale, Robins & Hine, 30 March 1905, lot unknown; bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 10 gns (plus part of a payment of £50 to 'Palser' for 'standing aside'); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.10 as ’Distant View of Harewood’; London, 1877, no.312 or no.303; Cambridge, 1920, no.43 as ’The Valley of the Wharfe’; New Haven, 1982, IV.12. as ’Valley of the Conway’; New Haven, 1986a, no.82

About this Work

The Conwy Valley, from near Tyn-y-Groes

This panoramic view of the Conwy Valley was presumably painted from an untraced sketch that Girtin made on his 1798 visit to North Wales. Sketches by the artist survive from Conwy, on the northern coast (TG1305) and Betws-y-Coed, to the south (TG1331). This view of the wide valley of the Conwy appears to have been taken from the road between the two, though in which direction Girtin was travelling cannot be ascertained. There is in any case some doubt about the precise location of the view. For a long period it was thought to depict a scene in Yorkshire, until Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak claimed to have located the view as ‘from a point between Trefriw and Dolgarrog’, with ‘Upper Gwydir House’ in the distance (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.183). Tom Girtin (1913–94), who travelled the country searching for the locations of Girtin’s views, thought that it was taken closer to Conwy, near Tyn-y-Groes, a few kilometres from the house at Benarth that was rented by one of Girtin’s patrons, Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827). The artist's descendant supported his claim with a photograph that does indeed look very like this view (see figure 1), but his suggestion that the work was done following a second putative tour to North Wales in 1800 is less convincing; indeed, I now believe that there is sufficient evidence to safely conclude that all of the artist’s views of the region stemmed from a single trip in 1798. Another similar panoramic view in North Wales, Conwy Castle, from the River Gyffin (TG1739), which is dated 1800, has been claimed to be evidence of a later tour, whereas it is now clear that the appearance of dozens of dated drawings from the same year came about instead because Girtin was now supplying watercolours for sale on the open market for his representative, who acted somewhere between an agent and dealer, Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835). The addition of a date, a new element in Girtin’s practice, was therefore needed to prove that what was for sale was newly produced and not old unsold stock; in other words, it was not intended to document his travels. 

In contrast, this view, which is roughly the same size and follows a similar format to Conwy Castle, from the River Gyffin, appears to have been produced slightly earlier for Edward Lascelles (1764–1814) of Harewood House, whose commissions for other Welsh views, including The Ogwen Falls (TG1330) and A Mountain View, near Beddgelert (TG1322), probably helped to underwrite the cost of Girtin’s Welsh tour. The watercolour was actually exhibited in 1875 as a ‘Distant View of Harewood’, and it was presumably the work sold at the Harewood sale in 1858 with the same title (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 35). Of the fifteen watercolours in the sale, which were allegedly sold because they were badly faded after fifty years of continuous display, all but a handful of the locations shown had been lost or confused by this time, and an annotated sale catalogue shows the title of this lot crossed out, indicating that the identification was contested even then. Sadly, the watercolour’s faded state, which has meant that it has featured little in the Girtin literature, actually helps to substantiate the claim that it was once fit to grace the important collection of Girtin’s mature works that Lascelles formed between 1798 and 1802.

(?) 1798

The Great Hall, Conwy Castle

TG1305

(?) 1798

Pont y Pair, Betws-y-Coed

TG1331

1800

Conwy Castle, from the River Gyffin

TG1739

1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls

TG1330

1798 - 1799

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert

TG1322

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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