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Works Thomas Girtin

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1312: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 39.1 × 49.3 cm, 15 ⅜ × 19 ⅜ in. Private Collection, North Wales.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
39.1 × 49.3 cm, 15 ⅜ × 19 ⅜ in

'Girtin' lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle (TG1309)
The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle (TG1310)
The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle (TG1311)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in March 2022


Hugh Chambres Jones (1783–1869); then by descent

About this Work

This is one of four versions of a composition that shows Caernarfon Castle and the Eagle Tower from the north west, looking across the river Seoint (the others being TG1309, TG1310 and TG1311). The watercolours, depicting Edward I’s (1239–1307) great thirteenth-century fortress, were presumably based on a drawing made by Girtin on his 1798 tour of North Wales, though the original sketch does not appear to have survived. The view was very popular with artists, amateur and professional alike. In choosing to portray the castle from this angle, with part of the town walls to the left, the mountains in the distance and a busy shipping scene in the foreground, Girtin followed in the footsteps of Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809) and his master Edward Dayes (1763–1804) whose view of the Eagle Tower was taken from almost exactly the same spot (work untraced), whilst the artist’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) made a very similar sketch just a few weeks after Girtin’s visit, probably sometime in August 1798 (see TG1310 figure 1). According to one of the many tourists who visited Caernarfon at this time, Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758–1838), this particular view provided ‘a glorious study for the artist’s portfolio’, since it was ‘truly picturesque’ on account of the ‘lively bustling scene’ of the port. The Eagle Tower, the scene of the birth of the first English Prince of Wales, may have been the ‘chief object of attraction’ for Hoare, but his preoccupation was primarily with the visual qualities of the site, unlike so many of his contemporaries, for whom the scene often sparked lengthy moral digressions (quoted in Thompson, 1983, p.263). These commonly took the form of criticism of Edward I’s despotic behaviour, and the castle itself was identified as a monument to ‘tyranny … calculated to keep the surrounding districts in awe and subjection’ (Hucks, 1795, p.91), whilst the king’s campaign in North Wales was said to be conducted at the expense of ‘Cambrian Independence and Cambrian Liberty’ (Evans, 1804, p.174). The Revd Richard Warner (1763–1857) echoed this sentiment, but, as he noted, the fine preservation of the castle ‘does not produce those lively emotions in the mind’ (Warner, 1799, p.139). The point is significant because Girtin would probably have known Warner’s text since his view of Tintern Abbey was used as the book’s frontispiece (see print after TG0058), and he may have shared its political sentiments, but, nonetheless, he did not feel able to develop a historical, associative reading of the scene any more than Sandby had done a generation earlier.

Girtin and Loshak were unaware of this version of Girtin’s popular composition when compiling their catalogue and only now has it been illustrated for the first time. Although the work has suffered some fading, it remains a good example of the artist’s ability to maintain a consistent level of quality across multiple versions of his most popular compositions. This was a skill that Girtin was particularly called upon to display in his Welsh scenes which consistently sold well, perhaps because the artist tended, as here, to adopt a viewpoint sanctioned by tradition. There are small variations across the four watercolours in terms of the disposition of the figures and the beached shipping, as well as in their size, but the mood of each is consistently bright and the skies essentially benign. The one significant difference, the squarer format with the landscape setting cut to the right, might suggest a slightly later date for this, the second largest of the group, but the stylistic consistency within the group means that it is fruitless to speculate on which might be the earliest and which the latest work especially as none are dated.

1798 - 1799

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle


1798 - 1799

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle


1798 - 1799

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle


1791 - 1792

Tintern Abbey, from the River Wye


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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