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Works Thomas Girtin

Tonbridge Bridge and Castle

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0192: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Tonbridge Bridge and Castle, 1795–96, graphite on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 21 × 27 cm, 8 ¼ × 10 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1149).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Tonbridge Bridge and Castle
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
21 × 27 cm, 8 ¼ × 10 ⅝ in

‘T. Girtin / Tunbridge Bridge, & Castle - Kent- / T.Girtin delt’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Dover and Kent; River Scenery

Tonbridge Bridge and Castle (TG0845)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
78 as 'c. 1794'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 16 May 1881, lot 392 (9 pencils in lot); bought by 'Palser', £1 1s; J. Palser & Sons; Edward Cohen (1816–87); then by bequest to his niece, Isabella Oswald (1838–1905); her posthumous sale, Robins & Hine, 30 March 1905, lot unknown; bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), £1; given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

Cotswold Gallery, 1924a, no.221, £2 2s as 'From the Thomas Girtin collection'; New Haven, 1986a, no.23 as ’after Edward Dayes’


Vallance, 1932, pp.34–37; Cormack, 1975, pp.27-28; Whittingham, 2007, p.135

About this Work

John Walker (active 1776–1802), after Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), etching and engraving, 'Tunbridge' for <i>The Copper-Plate Magazine</i>, vol.3, no.52, pl.104, 1 May 1796, 11.1 × 16.7 cm, 4 ⅜ × 6 ½ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Tonbridge is on the road between Hastings and London, and, with its picturesquely sited castle on the banks of the river Medway, it attracted the attention of many artists, amateur and professional, as they made their way to or from the south coast (for example, see figure 1). Girtin’s drawing, which is signed on the back, includes all of the key elements that made up the popular subject, including the castle itself, which is marked by the twin round towers of the entrance gate as well as a clump of trees to the left that grew on the fortress’ original motte, or mound. In the middle ground is the recently built bridge over the Medway, which opened in 1776, and, this being the furthest point on the river to which vessels might safely navigate, there is evidence of the town’s role as a trans-shipment point. Finally, the picturesque mix of ancient and modern is completed by the building to the left, surrounded by trees, which is the Tunbridge Ware Manufactory (Whittingham, 2007, p.135).

Stylistically, the work is consistent with the pencil drawings that Girtin made at the house of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) around 1795–96, including a view of Ariccia after John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (TG0622) and A Village in a Wood (TG0236), which appears to be related to a pencil drawing by Thomas Hearne (1744–1817). It may be, therefore, that this drawing of Tonbridge was copied from a sketch in Monro’s collection by a professional artist; certainly, there is no evidence that Girtin himself ever visited this part of Kent. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak suggested that the drawing was ‘copied from a pencil drawing of the same size by Dayes in the Fitzwilliam Museum’; however, this appears to have been a mistake as no sketch by the artist is recorded in the Cambridge collection, though, along with Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), Girtin’s master does indeed seem to be the most likely candidate as the source (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.144). As for the function of the drawing, we need to look at the comparable sketch of the well-known rocky outcrop near Tunbridge Wells, The High Rocks, near Tunbridge Wells (TG0200), which has the same measurements, albeit in a landscape format, and is likewise inscribed on the back with the subject and signed ‘T. Girtin delt’. This form of the artist’s signature is found in only one other instance across his whole career, and its presence on two drawings of geographically related subjects suggests that they came from the same source and that they were produced as a pair. The use of the formal ‘delt’, short for the Latin ‘delinit’, also indicates that neither drawing was made for Girtin’s own use, and, instead, it appears that the sketches were produced for sale to a collector who wanted examples of Girtin’s skills as a draughtsman. Like The High Rocks, near Tunbridge Wells, this appears to be a presentation drawing – that is, a demonstration piece produced as an example of the artist’s drawing skills.

The relationship between Girtin’s signed outline drawing of Tonbridge and an almost exact watercolour replica of the composition (TG0845), which has been attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) and dated to around 1794, has been the cause of considerable debate over the years (Cormack, 1975, pp.27–28). My own tentative conclusion is that the watercolour is another example of a collaboration between Girtin and Turner at Monro’s home based on a sketch by another artist, and that it follows from this that the pencil drawing is part of a small group of Monro School subjects that the artist produced from the same source but for his own use, including Dover: Snargate Street, Looking West (TG0842). Indeed, although we do not know anything about the drawing’s early provenance, is not impossible that it, the watercolour and the other pencil drawing (The High Rocks, near Tunbridge Wells) all came from Monro’s collection.

1795 - 1800

Ariccia: The Church of Santa Maria Assunta and the Chigi Palace


1794 - 1795

A Village in a Wood


1795 - 1796

The High Rocks, near Tunbridge Wells


1795 - 1796

Tonbridge Bridge and Castle


1795 - 1796

Dover: Snargate Street, Looking West


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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