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Works Thomas Girtin

The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1274: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on paper, 16.5 × 27.9 cm, 6 ½ × 11 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's

Print after: John Roffe (1769–1850), 'from an Original Drawing by T. Girtin', etching and engraving, 'Marine-Barracks, at Stone-House, Devonshire' for The Copper-Plate Magazine, vol.4, no.81, pl.161, 1 October 1798, 15 × 20.2 cm, 5 ⅞ × 8 in. Reprinted in Thomas Miller, Turner and Girtin's Picturesque Views, p.121, 1854. British Museum, London (1862,0712.810).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
16.5 × 27.9 cm, 6 ½ × 11 in

'Girtin' lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth (TG1455)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 13 May 1881, lot 89 as 'Plymouth Harbour'; bought by 'Doulton', 39 gns; Sir Henry Doulton (1820–97); then by descent to Katherine Duneau Buckland (née Doulton); her widow, Virgoe Buckland; his posthumous sale, Graves, Son & Pilcher, 20 September 1949, lot 406; bought by 'Sabin', £88; ... Sotheby’s, 22 November 1979, lot 189, £400; Christie’s, 30 March 1993, lot 42, £3,450


Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.167, p.209 as 'Untraced ... Plymouth Harbour'

About this Work

This view of the newly built Marine Barracks at Stonehouse in Plymouth, with Mount Edgecumbe beyond, was almost certainly produced from a sketch dating from Girtin’s tour of the West Country in 1797. The watercolour is one of two versions of the composition and in all likelihood it was this watercolour that was engraved and published in October 1798 by John Walker (active 1776–1802) for his Copper-Plate Magazine, where it was inscribed as being ‘from an Original Drawing by T. Girtin’ (see the print after, above) (Walker, 1792–1802, vol.4, no.81, pl.161). It is therefore one of three West Country views that Walker seems to have commissioned directly from Girtin for his publication, the others being Kingswear, from Dartmouth (TG1265) and Totnes, from the River Dart (TG1272), all scenes on the south Devon coast. The views of Totnes and Kingswear fit into the category of picturesque river and coastal scenery, but, even though this image includes what The Copper-Plate Magazine termed the ‘terrestial paradise’ of Mount Edgecumbe overlooking the Hamoaze (the estuary at the mouth of the river Tamar), the composition is dominated by the fiercely utilitarian, four-square buildings of the Marine Barracks. According to the text accompanying the print, these were built between 1779 and 1785 at the expense of £30,000 to accommodate 650 men, their officers, an infirmary, ‘surgeons’ apartments’ and ‘wash-houses’. The uncompromising regularity of the mass housing is only partly offset by the rough vegetation of the foreground and the verdure in the distance, and it is hard to believe that the artist would have sketched such an unpromising scene without a commission from a publisher. At a time of war with France in the aftermath of revolution, Walker’s motives were presumably patriotic rather than picturesque, and the monumental line of buildings presents a suitably defiant wall to the opposing forces across the Channel.

The sense that Girtin was engaged in essentially hack work for a publisher with a non-artistic agenda can be gauged by comparing the watercolour with another more panoramic view of essentially the same view, dating from 1801 (TG1753). Tellingly, this ignores the barrack buildings and concentrates instead on the distant Edgecumbe, substituting a more conventionally picturesque port scene in the foreground. That Girtin may not have been fully engaged with the subject of the newly built barracks might also be inferred from the problem he has with perspective, which actually seems more pronounced in the watercolour than the print made after it. Thus, the level of the water in the estuary to the right is noticeably higher than the sea in front of the barracks – indeed, it appears ready to inundate the building complex from behind – though this unfortunate effect may have been exacerbated by the work’s poor, faded condition. The artist’s descendent Tom Girtin (1913-94) visited the area as part of a concerted campaign to trace the viewpoints adopted by Girtin in his tours of the country. He noted that his photograph of Stonehouse was taken from the highest nearby point, in Millbay Road, and that it was clear that Girtin had both invented the grassy eminence in the foreground and adopted an impossible quasi-birds-eye viewpoint (Girtin Archive, 35. Perhaps this might account for the problems the artist had with the level of the water in the different areas.

Girtin produced a second version of the composition on the same scale (TG1455). One of the drawings appears to have been owned by another publisher, the antiquarian author John Britton (1771–1857), who lent a watercolour titled ‘Mount Edgecumbe, from Stonehouse’ to an exhibition in 1822, and this may have been the ‘Mount Edgecumbe, with Entrance to Plymouth Harbour’ that he sold in 1832 (Exhibitions: London, 1822, no.260; Southgate, 22 June 1832, lot 1339).

1797 - 1798

Kingswear, from Dartmouth


1796 - 1797

Totnes, from the River Dart





1797 - 1798

The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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