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Works Thomas Girtin

The Thames from Westminster to Somerset House: Colour Study for the Eidometropolis, Section Four

(?) 1801

Primary Image: TG1855: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Thames from Westminster to Somerset House: Colour Study for the 'Eidometropolis', Section Four, (?) 1801, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 24 × 53.8 cm, 9 ½ × 21 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.27).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Thames from Westminster to Somerset House: Colour Study for the Eidometropolis, Section Four
(?) 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
24 × 53.8 cm, 9 ½ × 21 ⅛ in
Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work; Study for a Panorama
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; London and Environs; The River Thames

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
229 as 'Girtin's Panorama of London (Eidometropolis): Sector V'; '1799'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2016


John Jackson (d.1828), almost certainly from his son-in-law, John Girtin (1773–1821); his posthumous sale, Foster's, 24 April 1828, lots 342–45 as 'unfinished Views of London'; bought by Colnaghi'; Henry Peter Standly (1782–1844); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 16 April 1845, lot 398, ‘coloured drawings, views of London, the drawings taken on the spot which afterward served to paint the large panorama’; bought by 'C. Hall' £5 15s; Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

London, 1972, no.322; Manchester, 1975, no, 26; Manchester, 1983, no.25; London, 1985, no.82b; London, 1988a, no.34; London, 1993, no.149; London, 2002, no.154


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.32; Binyon, 1900, pl.14; Sparrow, 1902, p.93; Finberg, 1905, p.58, p.60; Whitley, 1924, fig.3; Paris, 1945, p.26; Mayne, 1949, pl.36; Lemaître, 1955, p.203; Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, p.9; Pragnell, 1968, p.18; Wilton, 1977, p.32, p.187; Bermingham, 2001, pp.128–29; Eisenman and others, 2002, pp.123–24; Smith, 2018, pp.54–56; Charles, 2020, p.254; Robbins, 2021, p.64; Bransgrove, 2023, pp.249–50

About this Work

This colour study, contrasting the industrial sites of the south bank of the Thames with the altogether grander structures on the opposite side of the river, was made by Girtin in preparation for the painting of his 360-degree panorama of London, which opened to the public in August 1802 as the Eidometropolis. Following the completion of the now missing drawing of the fourth of the seven sections, which would have fixed the position of the buildings from the artist’s viewpoint on the Albion Place Terrace (see TG1850 figure 1), Girtin copied the outlines onto another sheet of paper, to which he then added colour (Smith, 2018, pp.45–46). This is not a sketch worked from nature, therefore, but was produced in the studio, where Girtin improvised the complex light and weather effects, which ensured the dramatic impact that marked out his version of the newly invented visual spectacle as the ‘connoisseur’s panorama’ (Monthly Magazine, October 1802, p.255).1 The recent discovery of the payments made to ‘his men employed in painting the picture of London’ has made it clear that this and the other four surviving colour studies were made as guides for specialist scene painters to add the colour to the monumental circular canvas, measuring ‘1944 square feet’ (about 180 square metres) – that is, 18 ft high (5.5 m) with a circumference of 108 ft (5.5 × 33 m) (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).2 Another recent discovery, a newspaper advertisement, actually goes as far as to show that the panorama was ‘taken … from Drawings painted by Mr. Thos. Girtin’ (Morning Chronicle, 14 October 1801). It may be that Girtin was not involved in the painting of the monumental canvas at all, therefore, though it is also possible that he worked on some of the final details. 

The colour study of the view west across the river is dominated in the foreground by some of the industrial sites that then occupied the south bank, including Lukin’s Iron Foundry, Nicholson’s Timber Yard and the Patent Shot Tower. As a result, as one reviewer noted, the view ‘appears through a sort of misty medium, arising from the fires of the forges, manufactories, &c.’, with the result that Inigo Jones’ (1573–1652) great Banqueting House is completely obscured by smoke (Monthly Magazine, October 1802, pp.254–55). In contrast, the unembanked north side is dominated by the monumental classical form of Somerset House, the still incomplete home of the Royal Academy and centre of the civil service. To the left of this is the Adelphi, the grand riverfront development of Robert Adam (1728–92), with his brothers John Adam (1721–92) and James Adam (1732–94), which was where Girtin, together with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), worked at the home of their patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) during three winters, from 1794 to 1797. Amongst the grand church steeples and the even more monumental forms of the city’s theatres visible on the far bank is an easily missed detail: twin vertical forms to the left of the Shot Tower are the only sign in the panorama that the country was in the middle of a long and destructive war with France. The telegraph tower on the roof of the Admiralty building in Whitehall was one of a chain designed to relay messages to the coast using a system of six shutters that could be opened and closed to signal the letters of the alphabet (Smith, 2018, pp.54–56). 

The paper employed by Girtin for all of the colour studies for the panorama has been identified by the paper historian Peter Bower as a white laid writing paper manufactured by James Whatman the Younger (1741–98) at the Turkey Mill, Maidstone (Smith, 2002b, p.200; Bower, Report). 

by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 This highly informative review is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 – Item 3).
  2. 2 The financial records of the artist's brother John Girtin (1773–1821) include the income he received from the Eidometropolis as well as the expenses he incurred. They are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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