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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ogwen Falls

(?) 1798

Primary Image: TG1329: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ogwen Falls, (?) 1798, graphite on paper, 22 × 18.4 cm, 8 ⅝ × 7 ¼ in. Private Collection, Cumbria.

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Ogwen Falls
(?) 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite on paper
22 × 18.4 cm, 8 ⅝ × 7 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
North Wales; Waterfall Scenery

The Ogwen Falls (TG1330)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
432i as 'The Gorge of Wathenlath with the Falls of Lodore'; '1801'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2016


Henry Melville Gaskell (1879–1954), by 1929; then by descent

Exhibition History

Kendal, 1980, no.131 as 'The Gorge of Wathenlath'; Grasmere, 1986, no.126 as ’The Gorge of Watendlath with the Falls of Lodore, Derwentwater, Cumberland’; ’c.1801’


Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.82

About this Work

This pencil sketch of the Ogwen Falls, located near the road between Capel Curig and the North Wales coast, was made by Girtin in the summer of 1798, and it formed the basis of an impressive studio watercolour commissioned by Edward Lascelles (1764–1814) (TG1330). The view was for many years misidentified with the title ‘The Gorge of Wathenlath with the Falls of Lodore’ and dated to 1801, which was when Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak mistakenly believed that Girtin visited the Lake District (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.82 and 193). However, in 2001 Paul Joyner suggested to me in a letter that the view shows ‘the Ogwen Falls or Falls of the Benlog cascading from Llyn Ogwen’, and, though he expressed some reservations about the identification, I am sure that any discrepancies between the topography of the site and Girtin’s drawing can be accounted for by the artist’s desire to produce an image that works effectively as a composition. Features such as the long descent of the falls in stages, their disposition in relation to the surrounding rocks, and the fact that they are constituted from two separate sources joining at different levels (the rivers Idwal and Ogwen) all support Joyner’s new identification. Further confirmation of this is not helped by the fact that, though the falls are located near a route taken by many visitors to North Wales, views are relatively rare, and I have not been able to trace either a print or a drawing that predates Girtin’s sketch. Given that Girtin was not the most curious of travellers, happy to follow in others’ footsteps and only then seek a new angle from which to depict a familiar view, I suspect that he was in this case directed towards his unfamiliar subject by another person, presumably his patron Lascelles, and that he therefore executed this pencil drawing with a commission already secured.

North Wales: A Waterfall, Rocks and Houses

Girtin and Loshak’s misdating of this pencil drawing is particularly unfortunate because they used it as evidence of Girtin’s development as a draughtsman, and, specifically, his increasing use with maturity of a ‘vigorous hatching … divided into more or less distinct areas, varying in strength and direction’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.82). This indeed does describe the effect seen here, but knowing that the pencil drawing was made at the same time as the very different sketch Caernarfon: A Street Scene with Plas Mawr (TG1313) indicates that the contrast stemmed not from any stylistic development but from the different pictorial requirements of a rocky landscape and a picturesque architectural subject. In general, the landscape sketches Girtin made in Wales tend to be in the form of colour studies, but in this case the weather and light conditions under which he viewed the falls presumably did not warrant the extra labour involved, and he seems to have been content to make a pencil drawing that fixed the general forms of the landscape together with the contrasting textures of tree, rock and water.

A pencil sketch by Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), also from 1798 and currently titled North Wales: A Waterfall, Rocks and Houses (see TG1329 figure 1), seems to show the same view from a slightly different angle so that the house appears further to the right. According to Joseph Farington (1747–1821), Turner travelled to ‘South & North Wales this Summer’, and he told the diarist that he was ‘alone and on Horseback – out 7 weeks’. Given that the artist was not reported to be back in London until late September, it is clear that although Turner sketched many of the same subjects as Girtin, they did so independently, with the former’s visit to the Nant Ffrancon valley taking place a month or so later. The weather, Turner noted, included ‘much rain’, but this was ‘better for effects’, and indeed for the flow of water in the region’s numerous waterfalls, as Girtin’s sketch attests (Farington, Diary, 26 September 1798).

1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls


(?) 1798

Caernarfon: A Street Scene with Plas Mawr (The Great House)


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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