Another possibility, suggested to me by Ian Warrell in the course of a correspondence in 2020, raised the possibility that the drawing depicts Girtin’s contemporary colleague Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). Drawing attention to the facial resemblance between the sketch and a group of pencil studies of Turner made at the home of Monro around 1795–96 (including comparative images figure 1 and TG1925 figure 1), Warrell makes a convincing case that the slightly feminised dandy is a youthful image of the artist hard at work at the patron’s residence at the Adelphi, and that it is therefore close in appearance to the very early self-portrait that Turner painted in oils (see figure 2). Given that we know from the artists themselves that Girtin and Turner spent three years working together at Monro’s home, collaborating closely on the same copies of the outlines and sketches of John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Edward Dayes (1763–1804) and John Henderson (1764–1843), there is a further rationale behind the attractive idea that the author of this drawing was none other than Girtin himself, perched a few feet away from his subject (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798). However, whilst admitting that the subject of the sketch could indeed be Turner, I am not completely won over by the idea of Girtin’s authorship. The fact that the drawing came from the collection of the artist’s son, Thomas Calvert, ultimately means little as he purchased the bulk of it on the art market and is only likely to have inherited a few items from his mother, Mary Ann Girtin (1781–1843), and his grandfather, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843). The stylistic evidence for a Girtin attribution is likewise promising but ultimately not totally compelling. The one signed portrait study we have by Girtin, an image that probably shows his father-in-law, Borrett (TG1517), does indeed contain passages of hatching that resemble the drawing here. At the same time, the only figure study for which there is clear evidence that it was drawn either by Girtin at Monro’s house or for the patron himself, Study of a Woman Sewing (TG0917), is arguably less evidently by the same artist, being more carefully outlined. Certainly, there is nothing in these comparisons and others to substantially undermine the case for Girtin’s authorship, but equally there is not the proof needed for an author made cautious by the seductive nature of the thought that what we might be looking at here is a portrait study of one great artist by another, and a unique record of a fascinating working collaboration at that.
1801 - 1802
A Sheet of Figure Studies Relating to ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’
1798 - 1799
A Study of a Man, Said to Be the Artist George Barret the Younger
1795 - 1796
A Study of a Woman Sewing