Documents, Dated Watercolours and Early Accounts of the Artist
1 February 1824
Robert Hunt, ‘Fine Arts, Engravings’, The Examiner, 1 February 1824, p.71
Robert Hunt (active 1808–50), the critic for The Examiner, pens a prescient review of the qualities that will make Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea) (TG1740) such an iconic work:
Chelsea Reach is a Print that shows the triumph of chiaroscuro over barrenness of subject, a dark and almost horizontal line of a few homely objects, on a dark spread of calm water; but on a shed upon that line lingers a light, the beauty-spot of chiaroscuro, which balancing with the only other high light in the picture on the sky, operates as a spell of pleasure on the spectator. R. H.
8 April 1824
William Bernard Cooke, Soho Square, London, Exhibition of Drawings: Third Exhibition, 1824 (Exhibitions: London, 1824)
The exhibition, held at 9 Soho Square, includes works by Girtin (the catalogue notes that ‘Drawings which are to be disposed of are marked by an *’):
- 9 – ‘Undershot Water-Mill. The property of Lady Long’
- 16 – ‘Overshot Water-Mill. In the possession of Messrs. Woodburn’ (TG1427)
- 18 – ‘*A Landscape’
- 47 – ‘Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire. In the possession of Stuart Wortley, Esq. M. P.’
- 59 – ‘View on the Waterfall on the Marne, above the Bridge, at Charenton. In the possession of Messrs. Woodburn’ (TG1889)
- 88 – ‘*Gateway of Kelso, in Scotland’
- 96 – ‘A Water-Mill. In the possession of Messrs. Woodburn’
- 102 – ‘*Ryddland, N. W.’
- 169 – ‘Ouse Bridge, York’
10 April 1824
‘Exhibition of Drawings, Soho-Square’, Somerset House Gazette, 10 April 1824, p.9
Reviewing William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) third exhibition at Soho Square, the writer, who may have been William Henry Pyne (1770–1843), begins by saying that the walls are hung with ‘many an old acquaintance’. The writer continues:
The ‘Ouse Bridge, at York,’ by Thomas Girtin, is one. There are many youthful amateurs who are curious to know the style of this original artist whose works are already become scarce. We refer them to this drawing, as an intelligent specimen of his topographical taste. It is broad in effect, rich in colour, bold in execution, and conveys a general idea of his manner of treating such subjects. The collection is enriched by nine of his works.
23 April 1824
‘Exhibition of Drawings, Soho-Square’, The New Times, 23 April 1824, p.3
Reviewing William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) third exhibition at Soho Square, the anonymous author notes that there ‘are some excellent Drawings by Girtin’.
1 May 1824
‘Exhibition of Drawings, No. 9, Soho-Square’, Somerset House Gazette, 1 May 1824, p.129
Reviewing William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) third exhibition at Soho Square, the writer, who may have been William Henry Pyne (1770–1843), draws attention to ‘Undershot Water-Mill, No. 9, by T. Girtin’, lent by Amelia Long, Lady Farnborough (1772–1837):
This very original transcript of a real scene, is also the property of the same lady. There is a sort of retributive justice in the respect which is thus shewn to the memory of poor Girtin; for among the admirers of that lady’s topographical drawings, none were more ardent than he.
1 May 1824
‘Cooke’s Exhibition of Drawings’, The Imperial Gazette, 1 May 1824, p.520
Reviewing William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) third exhibition at Soho Square, the anonymous writer picks out a view of Kirkstall Abbey that, on the basis of the description here, might be identifiable with the celebrated watercolour in the British Museum (TG1635):
‘Kirchstall Abbey,’ Yorkshire. T. Girtin. Represents a large expanse of country, partially shadowed by dense masses of cloud that are floating across the sky. Hence is obtained that admirable repose, and breadth of shadow, which distinguish this artist not less than his fidelity, and chasteness of coloring. On examination of his pictures we must believe him to have had a most perfect knowledge of forms and hues; no mark of successive efforts appears; one dash of the pencil seems to accomplish all we desire; and though his pictures are evidently colored in the broadest style, at a very short distance from thence there is no dissatisfactory effect of haste and slovenliness.
These remarks will equally apply to the subject just mentioned, and to several others in this collection.
1 May 1824
‘Cooke’s Exhibition of Drawings’, The Repository of Arts, third series, vol.3 (1 May 1824), p.303
The review includes praise for those who ‘early struggled to establish an English school’, including Girtin, who ‘deserved to have been, a royal academician’.
12 June 1824
‘The Panorama’, Somerset House Gazette, 12 June 1824, pp.151–52
We have in a former number ascribed the invention of the Panorama, to Sir George Beaumont, Bart, and until some one steps forward with indisputable pretensions, to claim the honours of a previous discovery, the merit will of course continue to appertain to this distinguished gentleman.
The late Thomas Girtin, of topographical fame, of whose works we have so frequently spoken, was one of the first who painted a panoramic scene: though, indeed not properly so denominated, as the picture did not comprehend an entire circle. The subject which he chose for pictorial representation, was the British metropolis, as viewed from the top of the Albion Mills, a lofty structure so called at the eastern corner of the Surry side of Blackfriar’s Bridge. This, however, though admirably painted, was not sufficiently illusive in effect, nor on a large scale.
To Messrs. Barker and Son, who erected the great building in Leicester Square, for the subsequent exhibitions of these circular pictures, must be awarded the entire honour of making grand panoramic scenes effective, not only by the vast scale on which they designed their subjects, but by the bold and masterly style with which they were painted, leaving nothing that could he wanting to render the scenes thus brought to view, perfectly illusive, and as satisfactory to the critical eye of the painter, with all his science, as to the gaze of those, who knowing nothing of the principles of linear perspective, might more easily he surprised by powerful effect, from not being able to develop the cause. The Panorama, doubtless, may be reckoned among the most interesting and astonishing of all human inventions.
Thomas Wright, Some Account of the Life of Richard WiIson Esq., R. A., Collected and Arranged by T. Wright, Esq. to Which Are Added Various Observations (Wright, 1824, p.78)
George Field (1777–1854) is reported to have observed to the author, Thomas Wright (1773–1845), that:
It is worthy of observation that none of Wilson’s pupils caught the manner of the master, and yet a school has arisen among us that strongly partakes of it, of which the drawings of my early acquaintance, the generous and giddy Tom Girtin, is an eminent instance.
1 July 1824
William Say’s (1768–1834) mezzotint Kirkstall Abbey on the River Aire (see print after TG1636 figure 2) is published as plate nine of William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) Rivers of England (republished as The River Scenery of England, 1827).
‘Exhibition of Drawings. No. 9, Soho Square’, The Metropolitan Literary Journal, August 1824, pp.361–62
Reviewing William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) third exhibition at Soho Square, the writer picks out two works:
18. A Landscape. – T. GIRTIN. This lamented artist was also taken off in the flower of his youth. His style is vigorous and essentially original. – His studies are all master-pieces.
169. Ouse Bridge, York. – T. GIRTIN. The more we see of the great talents of Girtin, the greater cause have we to regret his premature loss. What a figure he would have made, between Turner and Callcott.
La Belle Assemblée, vol.29 (August 1824), p.276
Reviewing William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) third exhibition at Soho Square, the writer commends ‘Girton’s Ouse Bridge at York’ as a ‘very fine drawing’.
1 August 1824
Thomas Lupton’s (1791–1873) mezzotint York Minster on the River Foss (see print after TG1656) is published as plate seven in William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) Rivers of England (republished as The River Scenery of England, 1827).
La Belle Assemblée, new series, vol.1 (October 1824), p.180
Reviewing prints from William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) Rivers of England, the writer describes the mezzotints York Minster on the River Foss and Kirkstall Abbey (see prints after TG1656) as ‘twilight’s’. The ‘execution of several of the rivers, in lightness, in transparency, and in general effect, is far superior to what we could have expected in this branch of the art’.
3 October 1824
The Examiner, 3 October 1824, p.628
The review of the mezzotints for William Bernard Cooke’s (1778–1855) Rivers of England by Robert Hunt (active 1808–1850) is typically perceptive:
The comparative cheapness and prompt publication of Mezzotintos would not be sufficiently recommendatory of them, if they did not possess an intrinsic beauty, not unlike to that of fine Indian ink drawings, especially of shadowy scenes;—such as are two of the three highly finished Mezzotintos in the third number of the Rivers of England, from original Drawings by J. M. W. TURNER, R. A. and the late celebrated Artist, THOMAS GIRTIN. One is York Minster, on the River Foss, engraved by Mr LUPTON, from a Drawing by GIRTIN in which the stately Minster is seen in dark shade against the spreading beams of the rising sun, but receiving a tinge of their brightness. The other is Kirkstall Abbey, on the River Aire, engraved by Mr SAY, and less stately, but still noble in its ruin, and in the strong light that, streaking the horizon, glimmers on some figures, &c. among the evening-involved and deepening shadows.
Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea)
1798 - 1799
An Overshot Mill
The Watermill above the Bridge at Charenton, near Paris
Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Hill
1800 - 1801
Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning
York Minster from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right
York Minster from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right