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Works Thomas Girtin

The Well House, Ashtead Park, Formerly Known as 'The Sawmill, Cassiobury Park'

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1571: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Well House, Ashtead Park, Formerly Known as 'The Sawmill, Cassiobury Park', 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on paper, 49.5 × 95.3 cm, 19 ½ × 37 ½ in. Watford Museum.

Photo courtesy of Watford Museum (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • The Well House, Ashtead Park, Formerly Known as 'The Sawmill, Cassiobury Park'
Date
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
49.5 × 95.3 cm, 19 ½ × 37 ½ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Wind and Water Mills; Surrey View

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG1571
Girtin & Loshak Number
326 as 'In Moor Park, Hertfordshire'; '1799'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001

Provenance

Edward Cohen (1817–86) (lent to London, 1875); sold to Puttick & Simpson, 12 July 1879; ... Charles Fairfax Murray (1849–1919); his sale, Christie's, 14 December 1917, lot 21 as ‘A Woody Landscape, with farm buildings, and a peasant seated’; J. Palser & Sons; bought by Claude Tryon (d.1949), 7 April 1919; his sale, Christie's, 15 December 1939, lot 47 as 'A Woody Landscape, with a mill: a peasant seated in the foreground'; bought by Frederick Meatyard, £47 5s; Fine Art Society, London, 1947-48; bought by Watford Library; transferred to Watford Museum, 1981

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.43 as ’Trees and Old Mill’; Fine Art Society, 1948, no.89 as ’In Cassiobury Park’; Watford, 1975, no.66 as 'The Sawmill, Cassiobury Park'; Watford, 1985, no number

Bibliography

Harwood, 1992, no.52, p.35; Rabbitts and Priestley, 2014, p.83; Moulden, 2016, pp.56–57 as 'The Well House, Ashtead Park, Surrey ... whereabouts unknown'

About this Work

1799, graphite on laid paper, 15.9 × 18.6 cm, 6 ½ × 10 ⅜ in. Leeds Art Gallery (1949.0009.0585).

The correct subject of this large, faded watercolour was identified as the well house at Ashtead Park in Surrey by Sarah Moulden in her thesis on the life and work of John Sell Cotman (1782–1842) (Moulden, 2016, pp.56–57) and I am happy to replace my original text which suggested erroneously that it depicts a sawmill on the estate of the Fifth Earl of Essex at Cassiobury in Hertfordshire.1 Moulden was not aware of who owned Girtin’s watercolour, but working from a black and white image she was able to identify the building from two pencil sketches by Cotman, one of which is inscribed ‘The Well House Ashtead’ and dated ‘1799’ and shows the structure from the same angle adopted by Girtin (see figure 1).2 The distinctive, picturesque form of the building was popular with artists at this date and it appears in other drawings by Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (see figure 2) as noted by Moulden herself, as well as by Francis Haward (1759–97) (The Whitworth, University of Manchester (D.1941.1)) and Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1975.3.1030)), both of which were brought to my attention by Jeremy Yates. In his online catalogue entry for the Cotman drawings at Leeds Art Gallery David Hill describes the building as containing two elements: to the right under a tiled roof a raised water tank was installed to create a head of water for the main house; and to the left an ‘open space beneath a pitched roof, housing a horse gin, spindle shaft, and gearing’ was added to raise the water from a well (Cotman Online). All of these elements are shown by Girtin with the addition of a rather indistinct horse or mule to power the mechanism. The well house was a significant feature on the estate for, as John Evelyn noted in 1684, Ashtead Park was blighted by the fact ‘that they have no water save what is drawne up with horses from an exceeding deepe well’ (Jackson, 1977, p.70).3

watercolour, bodycolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 11.3 × 17.8 cm, 4 ¼ × 7 in. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Sir Robert Witt (1929.244).

Girtin’s watercolour is one of the largest he ever painted and though its condition works against it today it was clearly a significant work that was almost certainly painted as a commission. The owner of Ashtead Park at this time was Richard Bagot Howard (1733–1818), but there is nothing to suggest that he had any connection with Girtin, whilst there is good evidence to link the watercolour with Thomas Monro who rented a property at nearby Fetcham and depicted the same well house in a roughly contemporary drawing (see figure 2). It is even possible that Monro entertained Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at his country home in Fetcham as he owned drawings of Ashtead by both artists. ‘Cottages in Ashtead Park, Surry, a pair’ by Girtin was sold from his collection in 1806 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 10 May 1806, lot 73) and Ashtead Park, described as a sketch, was sold as by Turner in 1833 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833, lot 94). However, aside from these drawings, neither of which have been traced, the evidence to link Girtin with a visit to Fetcham is not particularly strong and it is equally possible that the watercolour of the Ashtead well house was made from a secondary source.4 There is more than enough detail in the drawings by Monro himself and the two on-the-spot sketches made by Cotman in 1799 for Girtin to have produced a correct and convincing view of the idiosyncratic and characterful building and set it within a generic woodland setting, not least as he may also have had access in the Monro collection to two further drawings by Thomas Hearne of Ashtead Park (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 2 July 1833, lots 79 and 83) one of which may be the drawing in the Yale Center for British Art (see TG0236 figure 1). Regardless of whether Girtin travelled to Ashtead or not, Monro remains the most likely first owner of this large watercolour even if it did not appear in the patron’s posthumous sale in 1833. From entries in the diaries of the artist John Linnell (1792–1882) we know that Monro was discretely selling off some of his largest and most important commissions in the first decades after Girtin’s death including views of Durham (TG0919) and Jedburgh (TG1231) and his son, Henry Monro (1791–1814), records another private sale in 1808 of ‘Papa's Girtin’.5 When Joseph Farington (1747–1821) visited Monro’s Adelphi home in April 1797 he noted a house ‘full of drawings’ by ‘Hearne, Barrett, Smith, Laporte, Turner, Wheatley, Girtin’ with over 200 ‘drawings framed & glazed .. hung up’ in the ‘dining Parlour’ and the ‘Drawing room’ alone (Farington, Diary, 14 April 1797). But by the time of Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 all but a handful of ‘DRAWINGS, FRAMED AND GLAZED’ by Girtin had been sold – there were none by Turner – and I suspect that it was large scale and faded works such as Ashtead Park which were amongst the unknowable but no doubt substantial number that had been disposed of in the intervening period (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 28 June 1833).

1794 - 1795

A Village in a Wood

TG0236

1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral, from the South West

TG0919

1796 - 1797

The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey

TG1231

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  1. 1 Many thanks to Jeremy Yates who first directed me to Moulden’s thesis in an email dated 27 September 2023.
  2. 2 A third sketch, again by Cotman and likewise showing the building from the same viewpoin,t is still in the possession of a direct descendent of Dr Thomas Monro, mounted in a large scrapbook from which Monro's sketch of the structure (see figure 2) was at some point detached.
  3. 3 The well house was demolished in 1997 and I have not been able to locate a photographic record of its appearance.
  4. 4 Girtin’s earliest biographers only record Turner’s claim that he and Girtin ‘often walked to Bushey and back to make drawings for their kind patron’ with no mention of a trip to Fetcham (Watts, 1857, p.xi).
  5. 5 See the Documents section of the Archive (1808 and 1820).

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