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Works Thomas Girtin

Totnes, from the River Dart

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1272: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Totnes, from the River Dart, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 11.2 × 16.3 cm, 4 ⅜ × 6 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.30).

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

Print after: John Walker (active 1776–1802), 'from an Original Drawing by T. Girtin', etching and engraving, 'Totness' for The Copper-Plate Magazine, vol.5, no.119, pl.237, 1 December 1800, 15 × 20 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ⅞ in. Reprinted in Thomas Miller, Turner and Girtin's Picturesque Views, p.156, 1854. British Museum, London (1862,0712.812).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Totnes, from the River Dart
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
11.2 × 16.3 cm, 4 ⅜ × 6 ⅜ in
Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
204 as 'Totnes, Devonshire'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.16c

About this Work

At first sight this view of Totnes, looking north from the river Dart with the tower of St Mary’s prominent and the castle glimpsed through the trees to the left, seems to fit naturally into the sizeable group of works that Girtin executed from drawings made on his West Country tour in the autumn of 1797. We know that the artist sketched at nearby Sharpham (TG1273), and he must have passed through the town of Totnes on the way to or from Berry Pomeroy, where he made at least two drawings. Moreover, when the image was engraved in 1800 by John Walker (active 1776–1802) for his Copper-Plate Magazine, it was inscribed as being ‘from an Original Drawing by T. Girtin’ (see the print after above) (Walker, 1792–1802, vol.5, no.119, pl.237). Therefore, it is a natural assumption that like two other views commissioned by the publisher, Kingswear, from Dartmouth (TG1265) and The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse (TG1274), this was made from a sketch dating from the 1797 tour. The seemingly unsurmountable problem with this thesis, however, is that the engraving was published on 1 May 1797 and we now know that Girtin was not in the area of Totnes until the middle of November of that year (Smith, 2017–18, p.35). A later reprint of the engraving is dated 1801, but there is no getting round the fact that what appears to be a characteristic outcome of the West Country tour must have been produced after the work of another artist at an earlier date.

Extensive searches have not revealed the source, though only some of the West Country sketches by the most likely candidate, Girtin’s early patron James Moore (1762–99), seem to have survived from his 1791 tour. Moore’s outline drawings provided the basis for half a dozen watercolours that Girtin produced for his patron around 1792–93. Stylistically, the Totnes view must date from a few years later, in which case the most probable scenario is that sometime around 1796 Walker commissioned a view of Totnes and that Girtin turned to a copy of a Moore outline in order to fulfil the contract. If this was the case, the publisher’s claim that the engraving was taken from ‘an original drawing’, implying that Girtin had visited the site, was fraudulent. With hindsight, the fact that the Totnes view is closer to the standard size of the Moore sketches than the two other watercolours from the West Country tour engraved by Walker should have alerted me earlier to the hitherto unsuspected status of the work as a copy. Moreover, unlike Joseph Mallord William Turner’s (1775–1851) later view from the same spot, which exaggerates the bulk of the castle and the church tower as well as the drama of the setting (Tate Britain, Turner Bequest (CCVIII B)), this is a relatively prosaic composition. This too should have suggested that Girtin’s view was not worked from a carefully composed on-the-spot sketch.

(?) 1797

Sharpham House on the River Dart


1797 - 1798

Kingswear, from Dartmouth


1797 - 1798

The Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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