The fact that the watercolour was first owned by Walker, an engraver and publisher, is clear evidence of the importance of the topographical print trade in supporting Girtin’s earliest professional efforts. However, although Walker engraved more than twenty of Girtin’s works, this drawing was not one of them and, instead, it was reproduced as an aquatint by Samuel Alken (1756–1815) as the frontispiece to the Revd Richard Warner’s (1763–1857) A Walk through Wales, in August 1797, which was published in 1798 (see the print after, above). In the same year that William Wordsworth (1770–1850) penned his Lines Written a Few Miles from Tintern Abbey, Warner wrote a rather more commonplace celebration of the picturesque delights of the ‘loft ruins … rising in solemn majesty, spotted with mosses, and crowned with ivy’ next to the ‘glittering stream’ (Warner, 1798, p.227). The young apprentice Girtin may not have walked along the river Wye, but his secondhand view presumably satisfied the market for views of sites beloved by tourists in pursuit of the picturesque.
In fact, as C. Suzanne Matheson has pointed out, the majority of visitors to Tintern would have travelled down the river and Dayes’ viewpoint on the English bank is adjacent to the ferry and landing jetty used by tourist boats at this date (Matheson, 2007). Writing at a later date about the ruins of Fountains Abbey, Dayes expressed just what such a view could evoke, urging the visitor to ‘Retire to a respectful distance’ and ‘prophane it not with unhallowed feet’. ‘Here is ample scope for the moralist,’ he continued; ‘let him behold here the perishable labors of man’ (Dayes, Works, pp.127–28). Dayes no doubt shared his lofty ambitions for landscape painting with his apprentice, though Girtin as yet clearly lacked the technical skills to imbue his topographical views with such a moral dimension.
1791 - 1792
The River Wye at New Weir
Tintern Abbey, from the River Wye