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Works Thomas Girtin after (?) John Henderson

The Harbour at Weymouth

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0911: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), The Harbour at Weymouth, 1796–97, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 30 × 50 cm, 11 ¾ × 19 ⅝ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Clayton-Payne (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: John Henderson (1764–1843), Weymouth Harbour, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 28.5 × 49.2 cm, 11 ¼ × 19 ⅜ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (PD.34-1948).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • The Harbour at Weymouth
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper
30 × 50 cm, 11 ¾ × 19 ⅝ in

‘T Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2002, 2015 and 2017


Michael Holroyd of Halifax, c.1860; then by descent to Sybil Holroyd; her sale, Sotheby’s, 19 March 1981, lot 174; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £16,000 (stock no.7826); Tom Girtin (1913–94); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 14 July 1994, lot 119, £62,000; Esmé Valerie Eliot (1926–2012); her posthumous sale, Christie's, 20 November 2013, lot 272, unsold; Christie's, South Kensington, 10 July 2014, lot 215, unsold; Andrew Clayton-Payne, 2015–20

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1982, no.100, £25,000; Spink’s, London, 1992, no.5; London, 2002, no.112


Bauer, 1998, p.72

About this Work

Girtin almost certainly visited Weymouth during his West Country tour in the autumn of 1797 on the way to Exeter, where he is documented as having stayed in early November. There are two on-the-spot colour sketches of the old part of Weymouth that date from this visit (TG1240 and TG1241), and this view of the harbour has, since its reappearance on the art market in 1981, generally been assumed to have been made from another sketch made on the 1797 tour. This was indeed my opinion when I catalogued the work for the 2002 Girtin bicentenary exhibition, dating the work confidently to around 1798 (Smith, 2002b, p.150). However, although this may possibly be true, I am increasingly inclined to the view that the watercolour dates from prior to the 1797 tour and that, as in so many other cases, it was worked up at second hand from a sketch by an amateur artist. Girtin’s early patron James Moore (1762–99) visited the port in July 1791, and a number of his outlines of the harbour and esplanade survive (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1975.3.623 and B1975.3.624)). Much closer to Girtin’s view, however, are two sketches of the harbour by another amateur, John Henderson (1764–1843) (see figure 1 and figure 2), whom the artist met through Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Both the watercolour sketch and the more basic outline concentrate on the prominent building in the centre, as does another monochrome study, currently untraced, which, although attributed to the ‘School of Dr Monro’, may also be by Henderson. Given that these studies covered only part of Girtin’s composition, the artist would have needed to have worked from a more extended view, but there is some evidence that this once existed. A manuscript ‘catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the possession of Dr Monro’, made in 1832 (Girtin Archive, 36), notes ‘Tracings after Henderson’s Weymouth’, and I suspect that this may have been Girtin’s source, in which case we need to look again at Henderson’s watercolour of the same subject, which is in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (see the source image above).

Henderson’s watercolour was initially attributed to Girtin himself, but more recently it has generally been identified as a copy of Girtin’s watercolour. There is no doubt that the work is not by Girtin, but I would like to propose the slightly counter-intuitive idea that it is by Henderson and is actually the source, albeit at one remove, for The Harbour at Weymouth. This would certainly help to explain the significant differences in the figures and the disposition of the shipping, which are without exception less satisfactory in the ‘copy’ and which only make sense if Girtin improved upon the original. If this was a case of Girtin working from a secondary source, then it also accounts for the relative crudity of the Girtin watercolour, which, in retrospect, did not feel at home, stylistically, with the other fruits of the 1797 tour when shown in the 2002 exhibition. The band of buildings in the background, in particular, feels like a mechanical exercise in Girtin’s view, and, whilst the issue is by no means clear-cut, an earlier date and an origin of the work in the sketches and watercolour of Henderson makes sense of the work’s shortcomings.

Whatever the exact status of Girtin’s view of Weymouth, there is no question about its importance as an image of the newly fashionable resort, for, despite its title, the watercolour shows more than just the harbour. Thus, although one visitor at the time could decry Weymouth as a ‘very dirty place, frequented mostly by sailors, and people of trade’, they also noted that since ‘the King and Royal Family have honoured the place with their preference, it has become a very fashionable place of resort’ (Manners, 1805c, p.79) – and Henderson or Girtin includes details of this development. Stretched across the width of the composition to the right are the terraces along the esplanade, which were built to accommodate the visitors who flocked to the town in the wake of the royal family, and a number of the carriages of the wealthy occupants can be seen progressing along the quay. Thus, in contrast to John Constable (1776–1837) who, as Andrew Hemingway has shown in his analysis of the ‘imagery of seaside resorts and modern leisure’, typically avoided any reference to the modern ‘fashionable resort’, Girtin encompasses both aspects of Weymouth’s coastal identity (Hemingway, 1992, pp.181–82).

(?) 1797

The Market Rooms, Weymouth


(?) 1797

A Street in Weymouth


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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