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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ogwen Falls

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1330: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ogwen Falls, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour and stopping out on laid paper, 53.5 × 44.6 cm, 21 ⅛ × 17 ½ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1931.11).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • The Ogwen Falls
Date
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and stopping out on laid paper
Dimensions
53.5 × 44.6 cm, 21 ⅛ × 17 ½ in
Inscription

‘Girtin’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Exhibition Watercolour; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
North Wales; Waterfall Scenery

Collection
Versions
The Ogwen Falls (TG1329)
Catalogue Number
TG1330
Girtin & Loshak Number
432ii as 'The Gorge of Watenlath with the Falls of Lodore'; '1801'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2015

Provenance

Edward Lascelles (1764–1814); then by descent to Henry Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824–92); his sale, Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 11 as 'A waterfall, in a rocky ravine - upright'; bought by 'Bale', 18 gns; Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880) (lent to London, 1875); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 13 May 1881, lot 97 as 'A Rocky Landscape, with waterfall'; bought by 'Palser', £60 18s; J. Palser & Sons; bought by Edward Cohen (1816–87), 1881; then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); J. Palser & Sons; bought by Arthur Edward Anderson (c.1871–1938), 1931; presented to the Museum, 1931

Exhibition History

(?) Royal Academy, London, 1799, no.347 as ’Beth Kellert, North Wales’ or no.381 as ’Bethkellert, North Wales’; London, 1875, no.29 as ’Rocky Landscape and Waterfall’; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.82 as 'The Falls of Lodore'; Manchester, 1975, no.82 as ’The Gorge of Wathenlath with the Falls of Lodore, Derwentwater, Cumberland’; Manchester, 1983, no.23; London, 1984c, no.119 as ’The Gorge of Watendlath with the Falls of Lodore, Derwentwater, Cumberland’; Grasmere, 1986, no.127; Harewood, 1999, no.13; London, 2002, no.121 as ’The Falls of the Ogwen, North Wales’; Oxford, 2015, no.29

Bibliography

Mayne, 1949, p.100; Clarke, 1981, p.48; Brown, 1982, p.341, no.745

About this Work

This large and impressive watercolour, showing the Ogwen Falls near Capel Curig, is based on a pencil sketch that Girtin made on his tour of North Wales in the summer of 1798 (TG1329). The view was for many years mistakenly titled ‘The Gorge of Wathenlath with the Falls of Lodore’ and dated to 1801, 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, Paul Joyner has suggested that the watercolour shows ‘the Ogwen Falls or Falls of the Benlog cascading from Llyn Ogwen’ (Smith, 2002b, p.157). Though Joyner expressed some reservations about the identification in a letter to the author of this online catalogue (19 July 2001), any discrepancies between the topography of the site and Girtin’s depiction of it can surely be accounted for by the artist’s need to produce an image that works as an effective 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 – support the new identification. Confirmation of this is not helped, however, by the fact that though the falls are located near a route taken by many visitors to North Wales, views of them are relatively rare and no print or drawing that predates Girtin’s sketch has been found. Moreover, as with many of the other landscapes that were produced following the 1798 tour, Girtin did not include any local colour or incident that might indicate that this is a Welsh scene. Given that Girtin was not the most curious of travellers, generally happy to follow in others’ footsteps and only then search for a new angle from which to depict a familiar subject, I suspect that he was in this case directed towards the falls by another person, presumably Edward Lascelles (1764–1814), the first owner of the watercolour. 

Lydford Waterfall, Devon

It was Lascelles who also owned the even more impressive A Mountain View, near Beddgelert (TG1322); it is likely that Girtin received a commission prior to setting out on his tour of 1798 and that a payment from Lascelles of thirty-two guineas on 15 July 1799 covered the price of both works (Hill, 1999, p.22).1 The two large Welsh views acquired by Lascelles were probably not conceived as a pair, however, being of different sizes and formats, though they would have been framed in the same way. Watercolours painted on this scale were commonly attached to a stretcher, like a painting on canvas, then close-framed and glazed without the cream mount favoured today, and finally hung as part of a rich decorative ensemble. An inventory of Lascelles’ London home in Hanover Square, dating from 1814, lists the work as ‘A Waterfall’ and records that it hung in the ‘Breakfast Room’, whilst the Beddgelert view was located in the ‘Large Drawing Room’ (Hill, 1995, pp.57–8). If the works were not hung as a pair, then it is still possible that they did once appear together, at the exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1799. One of the two watercolours shown with the title ‘Bethkellert, North Wales’ was certainly the Lascelles Mountain View, near Beddgelert; the logical explanation for the fact that no trace of the other view has ever come to light is that the notoriously inaccurate Royal Academy catalogue listed two different works with the same title in error (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1799, nos.347 and 381). As one of the largest outcomes of the 1798 tour, and also as the property of Lascelles, The Ogwen Falls is therefore the likeliest candidate for the untraced 1799 exhibit. But, even if this were not the case and the works were not produced to be viewed together, there is no doubt that they were painted at the same time and used much the same palette, and that the highly compressed composition, with just a glimpse of the sky combined with the sublime image of rock and water as they bear down on the fragile realm of the shepherd and his flock, complement the spacious grandeur of the Beddgelert view. The monumental character of the mountain scene, which displays a clear debt to the example of Richard Wilson (1713/14–82) and views such as Lydford Waterfall, Devon (see figure 1), could not have been better calculated to demonstrate to visitors to the Academy Girtin’s status as a watercolourist with the ability and ambition to match the outstanding British landscape artist of the previous generation. 

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a buff-grey laid wrapping paper, made by an unknown English manufacturer (Bower, Report). This was worked by the artist on his favoured wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture (Smith, 2002b, p.157). This is probably the same low-grade support Girtin used for many of his later watercolours, including Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny (TG1897), The Ouse Bridge, York (TG1042) and Plymouth (TG1753).

(?) 1798

The Ogwen Falls

TG1329

1798 - 1799

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert

TG1322

(?) 1802

Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny

TG1897

1798 - 1799

The Ouse Bridge, York

TG1042

1801

Plymouth

TG1753

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  1. 1 A payment of ‘£17.17.0’ to ‘Mr Girtin for Drawings, Lessons etc.’ on 21 November 1798 is a less likely alternative (Hill, 1995, p.29).

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