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Works Thomas Girtin

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1310: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 42.9 × 56.6 cm, 16 ⅞ × 22 ¼ in. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (P.30-1932).

Photo courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
42.9 × 56.6 cm, 16 ⅞ × 22 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle (TG1309)
The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle (TG1311)
The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle (TG1312)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
321ii as 'Caernarvon Castle'; '1799'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Sir Charles Long, 1st Baron Farnborough (1760–1838) and Amelia Long, Lady Farnborough (1772–1837); then by descent to Jane Emily Dawson (née Long); bought by the Squire Gallery, London at a 'Country House sale in Devon'; bought by the Museum, 1932


V&A, 1933, p.28; Hardie, 1934, p.14; Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, p.3; Lambourne and Hamilton, 1980, p.151

About this Work

Caernarvon Castle, with the Eagle Tower, from the West

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, TG1311 and TG1312). The watercolours, depicting the great thirteenth-century fortress built for Edward I (1239–1307), 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 Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733–94), 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 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.

This is the largest of the four versions of Girtin’s composition and it may be the earliest, though the work’s faded condition makes that difficult to substantiate. I am not sure that precise dating is appropriate in any case, since, aside from their size, the works are extremely close, marked only by small differences in the shipping and figures and minor variations in the skies. The watercolour came from the collection of Sir Charles Long, 1st Baron Farnborough (1760–1838) and Amelia Long, Lady Farnborough (1772–1837), who may have commissioned it directly from the artist, along with other works including a view of Durham Cathedral (TG1079). Amelia Long was one of Girtin’s most significant pupils, copying his works on a number of occasions and generally working in his style (see TG1636 figure 2), and so it may be that it was she, rather than her husband, who bought the work from the artist. What was once said to represent a view near the Longs’ home in Bromley in Kent, but which is now thought to be another Welsh view, also came from their collection (TG1338), whilst a number of sketches that Girtin made in the countryside near their estate also survive (such as TG1422), though this view of Widmore was probably made before their arrival in the area.

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


1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral, from the South West


1798 - 1799

An Unidentified Landscape, Possibly the Vale of Clwyd


1798 - 1799

A Sandpit, near Logs Hill, Widmore


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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