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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

The River Wensum at Norwich

1791 - 1792

Primary Image: TG0056: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The River Wensum at Norwich, 1791–92, graphite and watercolour on laid paper (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost), 32.4 × 47.6 cm, 12 ¾ × 18 ¾ in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.283.4).

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1907 (Public Domain)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The River Wensum at Norwich
1791 - 1792
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)
32.4 × 47.6 cm, 12 ¾ × 18 ¾ in

'T. Girtin' lower right, by (?) Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Copy from an Unknown Source; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; East Anglia: Norfolk and Suffolk; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


Charles James Pooley (1836–1900); his sale, Christie’s, 6 March 1880, lot 27, unsold; his sale, Christie’s, 24 February 1888, lot 62 as 'A View in Norwich barges in river’, £10 6s; Sir John Charles Robinson (1824-1913); Christie's, 25 February 1907, lot 55; bought by 'Shepherd', £54 12s; Shepherd Brothers, London; bought from them by the Museum, 1907


Fry, 1907, pp.201–02; Carlisle, 1950, p.22; Metropolitan Museum Online as 'Anonymous, British ... early 19th century' (Accessed 02/09/2022)

About this Work

This watercolour was bought in 1907 as by Girtin, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has more recently demoted its status to ‘Anonymous British’ with the suggestion that the signature is forged. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak did not include the work in their catalogue of Girtin’s watercolours (Girtin and Loshak, 1954), but the authors were not always kind to his apprenticeship works and it is perhaps time to revisit the possibility that this is indeed a very early work, perhaps made after a sketch by his then master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804).

A Canal Wharf

The most compelling point in favour of an attribution to Girtin is the signature, which, far from being an obvious forgery, resembles the form found on many of the works that Girtin produced during his apprenticeship to Dayes, such as the interior view of St Stephen Walbrook (TG0014). The signature in the bottom right corner of this drawing has been cut at its lower edge and this probably resulted from the later removal of the original mount, onto which the writing had partly strayed. This form of presentation was typical of Girtin’s apprenticeship drawings, notably Rochester Castle, from the River Medway (TG0057). As for the subject, there is no suggestion that Girtin ever visited the city of Norwich, unlike Dayes, who did indeed produce a number of depictions of the city from on-the-spot sketches. These invariably concentrate on the cathedral in contrast to the emphasis on the commercial activities of the city’s crowded waterways shown here, and it must be admitted that this is more typical of the views produced by Norwich’s native artists, such as John Crome (1768–1821), though no model has been found in their work either.1

A similar working river scene in the collection of Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, bequeathed by the distinguished collector James Leslie Wright (1862–1954), has also been attributed to Girtin (see figure 1). This was not accepted by Girtin and Loshak, and in this case I can think of no reason to question their opinion.


London: Interior of St Stephen Walbrook, Looking East


(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 A watercolour depicting another river scene in Norwich, Bishop's Bridge, Norwich, still retains an attribution to Girtin (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, 1899.3). A young John Sell Cotman (1782–1842) would appear to be a more likely candidate for its authorship.

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