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Works Thomas Girtin after (?) Samuel Ireland

The Market at Aberystwyth

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG0350: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after (?) Samuel Ireland (1744–1800), The Market at Aberystwyth, (?) 1797, pen and ink and watercolour on paper, 13 × 18.3 cm, 5 ⅛ × 7 ¼ in. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (1088-1884, WD29).

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

Artist's source: Samuel Ireland (1744–1800), aquatint, 'Market at Aberystwyth' for Picturesque Views on the River Wye, 1 March 1797, 12.6 × 17.9 cm, 5 × 7 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Library.

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) Samuel Ireland (1744-1800)
  • The Market at Aberystwyth
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Pen and ink and watercolour on wove paper
13 × 18.3 cm, 5 ⅛ × 7 ¼ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
South Wales; The Country Town

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
144 as 'Village Fair with Mountebanks'; 1795–6
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2016


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1836–1912); then by a settlement to his sister, Julia Hog Cooper (née Girtin) (1839–1904); her sale, Davis, Castleton, Sherborne, 2 December 1884, lot 49 as 'An unfinished Sketch, “Mountebanks at a Village Fair”'; bought by the Museum


V&A, 1927, p.231 as 'Village Fair, with Mountebanks'; Williams, 1952, p.107; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.60; Lambourne and Hamilton, 1980, p.151; V&A Collections Online as 'Village Fair, with mountebanks' (Accessed 13/09/2022)

About this Work

Known until recently as Village Fair with Mountebanks, this uncharacteristic monochrome study was identified during the course of the preparation of this catalogue as showing the marketplace at Aberystwyth, and, even more surprisingly, it turns out to be a copy of an aquatint published by Samuel Ireland (1744–1800) in his Picturesque Views on the River Wye (see the source image above). According to the text, Ireland made the drawings for his Views on a tour along the length of the river in 1794, but the prints were not published until 1797 (Ireland, 1797). Therefore Girtin’s copy, together with two other views of Tintern also taken from the same source (TG0343 and TG0349), appears to postdate the rest of the artist’s Wye scenes by perhaps five years. As a result of the discovery of the source of the three later watercolours, it is now possible to say with some certainty that Girtin did not visit the much frequented picturesque river and that all of his views were therefore made from secondary sources. However, whilst it may have made sense to copy the work of another artist early on in his career – when his apprenticeship to Edward Dayes (1763–1804), combined with his lack of money, made it impossible to travel – by 1797 Girtin had completed the second of his annual tours and was exhibiting and selling watercolours made from his own on-the-spot sketches. All of this raises the question of why he should turn to a secondary source at this point and, indeed, what function copies such as this performed.

It is probably safe to discount the possibility that Girtin made the watercolour for reproduction in Ireland’s publication as he did not travel anywhere near Aberystwyth on the west Wales coast, though it is conceivable that he was employed to make a version of the engraver’s sketch and was not credited on the print for his labour. It is also possible that Girtin was simply attracted to the subject and that a copy of the print provided him with a useful set of figures that he might reuse in his own compositions. Though there are no precedents for this in the artist’s mature practice, there are echoes of the figures elsewhere, such as the man with the pig and the two figures on the donkey in Dartford High Street (TG0844). Perhaps the most likely option, however, is suggested by the two views of Tintern, and specifically by their small scale. Each of the drawings measures roughly 11.5 × 16.5 cm (4 ½ × 6 ½ in), which is the same size as a series of sketch-like commodities that Girtin produced following his trip to the north of England in 1796. The attraction of examples such as Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck (TG1089) and Seaton Sluice (TG1088) was that they were quick to produce and might be sold at a lower price to amateurs who appreciated the spontaneous production of what purported to be sketches made on the spot. Therefore, the economical application of sepia coloured wash here signified a spontaneously produced sketch from life, even as it copied the work of another artist through the medium of an aquatint. I suspect that all three Welsh views are thus examples of a new type of commodity that Girtin was pioneering around 1796–97.

Ireland’s text, in addition to describing the charms of a Welsh country market that ‘resembled rather a fair’ such was the gathering of people and animals, also included an easily missed but telling detail. To the left, he noted, ‘appears part of the castellated dwelling of Uvedale Price’ (1747–1829), the writer on the picturesque who did the most to develop a theoretical basis for the popular ramblings of the Revd William Gilpin (1724–1804) (Ireland, 1797, p.18). Ireland wrote on Gilpin’s failings as a topographer at length, and his book and its illustrations were aimed at supplanting the ‘general effect’ of the images Gilpin included in his earlier influential publication, Observations on the River Wye … Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1782) (Ireland, 1797, p.133). Nowhere does Girtin display the least interest in contemporary aesthetic theory, but it would be surprising if he did not share Ireland’s contempt for Gilpin’s ideas, which, from a professional artist’s point of view, provided a spurious justification for the limited capabilities of amateur artists and their engagement with the landscape.

(?) 1797

Tintern Abbey, from the River Wye


(?) 1797

Tintern Abbey: The View from the Nave


1795 - 1796

Dartford High Street


1796 - 1797

Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck


1796 - 1797

Seaton Sluice


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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