11 January 1852

Notes by Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85) on a meeting with the engraver John Pye (1782–1874) (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/11)

Jenkins, a watercolour artist and early historian of his profession, describes discovering a set of etchings ‘in the library at Woburn Abbey’ in which Girtin ‘put in the effects in colour’ for the ‘Aquatint Engravers’. These, he claimed, were bought by George Capel-Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex (1757–1839), and presented by him to Francis Russell, 7th Duke of Bedford (1788–1861). This is the source of the longstanding confusion between the two sets of etchings coloured by Girtin: the presentation set of twenty prints bought by the Earl of Essex and given to Richard Ford (1796–1858), and the incomplete set coloured for the acquatinters owned by the Duke of Bedford. Pye told Jenkins that ‘Turner looked up to Girtin and that at one period he considered it the greatest compliment that could be paid his drawings for them to be said to be like Girtin’s’ (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/12).

23 January 1852

George Price Boyce (1826–97) records his first contact with Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74) (Bradbury, 2019, vol.2, p.992).

Mordan is lodging at a doctor's of the name of Girtin, son of poor Girtin the water-colour painter, and companion of Turner. He has promised to get me to see his drawings if he has any of his father's. 

5 February 1852

George Price Boyce (1826–97) records a visit to the home of Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74) (Bradbury, 2019, vol.2, p.993).

To Islington, to Mr. Girtin’s, 48 Canonbury Square, to see a goodly collection of his father’s drawings; all of them interesting, many beautiful, some very excellent colour in two or three of them. Among the most striking were Kirkstall Abbey in the last gleam at evening, a canal in early morning, an old mill, a barn reflected in a pond — trees and distant country (roof of barn reflected which couldn’t be). Mrs. G. said that instead of the painter being a dissipated character he was a most exemplary one — was a teetotaller from his 16th year; enjoyed refined society and differed strongly in taste from his friend, G. Morland. Mr. G. showed us a very fine drawing of Lincoln Cathedral and old houses and shops in front of it, by Turner, dated 1795 or 1796 – fine in every respect, purity of colour and effective light and shade, gradation of tones and faithfulness of drawing astonishing.

25 March 1852

George Price Boyce (1826–97) records attending a lecture by Charles Robert Leslie (1794–1859) at the Royal Academy (Bradbury, 2019, p.7).

With Clayton to the R.A. to hear Leslie’s 5th lecture on landscape painting, but in reality on the works of Cozens, Girtin, Constable and Turner, exquisite examples of which lined the walls. Crowded audience.

Early 1852

List drawn up by Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85) of the works by Girtin in the collection of Anne Miller (1802–90), a descendant of James Moore (1762–99), at her home in Croydon (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/7)

Jenkins’ research on the early history of the watercolour profession led him to seek out the descendant of Girtin’s earliest significant patron, who retained his collection almost in its entirety. The works are listed in two columns (‘G’ presumably standing for Girtin and ‘JM’ for James Moore):


Furness Abbey    ditto G
Saltwood Castle   Burnham  
St Augustin’s Priory G Tonbridge Wells  
Byland Abbey Payne Tivoli  
Tynemouth Priory   Terni  
Battle Abbey G Tintern Abbey  
Tynemouth Priory    Glasgow Cathedral  
La Porte de Cornillion   3 Landscapes  
Bodiam Castle   2 ditto with Sheep  
Battle Church G Landscape  
Denbigh Castle G Nottingham Castle  
Old front of Guildhall    Buildwas Abbey  
T Church nr Winchelsea G Southwell Church  
Monument in Wimbledon G Lindisfarne  
Exeter Cathedral G Kinloss Abbey  G
Kirkstall Abbey G

15 not named

ditto G    
Ludlow Castle   JD Church near Maldon
Winchelsea Church   Seat of Bertran de Verdun ditto
Helmsley Castle Conway Castle  
Bamborough Castle G Pevensey  
Bexhill Church G Goodrich Castle?  
ditto G Elgin Cathedral  
Fountain’s Abbey   ditto  
Castle Acre Priory Dayes  ditto  
Bolton Castle   Dunkeld Cathedral JM
Colchester Castle   Pluscardine Abbey JM
Warkworth Castle G ditto JM
Buildwas Abbey   Sweetheart or New Abbey JM
Conway Castle   ditto JM
Saltwood Castle G Aberbrothwick Abbey JM
Chepstow Castle   Jedburgh Abbey JM
Kenilworth Castle G Dumfermline Abbey JM
Lincoln Cathedral  G Linlithgow Palace JM
ditto   Melrose Abbey JM 
Carew Castle G ditto JM
Stonehenge G Dryburgh Abbey Teviotdale JM
Lincluden College JM Pembroke Castle G
Old Abberdeen Cathedral JM Castle Stewart Moore
Cawdor Castle JM Boyne Castle, Banff JM
Dumfermline Fratery JM Dunblain Cathedral JM
Caerlaverock Castle JM Dunstaffage Castle JM
Kelso Abbey JM Glamis Castle JM
St Andrew’s Cathedral JM Graig Millar Castle G
Dumbarton Castle   Dunnotter Castle G
Croyland Abbey   Duff House G
Melrose   ditto G
Pevensey   Dunbarton Castle   
Kelso Abbey JM ditto G
Wenlock   Spynie Palace G
Exeter G Framed Edinburgh Castle G
Stratford on Avon G Findlater Castle G
Lichfield G Dexford Castle  G
St Andrews G Dunstaffage Castle G
Ely G Glasgow JM
Lincoln G Pluscardine Abbey  G
Durham Dayes    

9 February 1852

Letter from Anne Miller (1802–90), a descendant of Girtin’s early patron James Moore (1762–99), to Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85), an early historian of the watercolour profession (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/4)

In looking over some books … I have found several water colour drawings in Various stages, which I think might be interesting to you. Likewise enclosed pencil sketches marking the date of many of the views.

Miller notes that ‘The original of the accompanying little engraving is at the lodging of an aunt of mine in Croydon’ and that the original ‘pencil sketch is dated 1792’.

12 May 1852

Letter from the artist’s son, Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74), to Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85), an early historian of the watercolour profession (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/8)

Since I returned to my present abode, I have never hung my drawings, and they are all stowed away in a closet.

May 1852

List of the ‘Principal Drawings’ by Thomas Girtin in the possession of the artist’s son, Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74) (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/9)

  • '2 – Views of Kirkstall Abbey – Morning and Evening dated 1802. The evening engraved – a repeat of Mr Windus drawing' (TG1636 and TG1637)
  • '2 – Small Views done in Paris – dated Paris 1802' (TG1917 and TG1918)
  • '2 – Views of the Ouse Bridge – York – dated 1800' (TG1649 and TG1651)
  • '1 – Valle Crucis Abbey – 1801'
  • '1 – Stanstead Mill – Essex' (TG1416)
  • '1 – Conway Castle – 1800' (TG1739)
  • '1 – Farm in Essex'
  • '1 – St Vincents Rock - Clifton' (TG1735)
  • '1 - Ribeaux Abbey' (TG1057)

May 1852

Notes by Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85), an early historian of the watercolour profession, on conversations with Mary Hog (c.1781–1856), friend and bridesmaid to the artist’s wife, Mary Ann Girtin (1781–1843) (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/10)

Took tea with the Girtins – Miss Girtin kindly accompanied me to 27 Highbury Place to introduce me to Miss Hog who was the confidante of Thomas Girtin’s wife, bridesmaid, and also godmother to the only child of the painter, the present Mr Girtin. Had a long conversation with her about Thos Girtin the artist – mentioned the report of excesses attributed to him – she said she never heard nor did she believe any thing of the kind, that he was much noticed by the leading nobility of his times and received into their houses on the most intimate terms – at the Earl of Harewoods he had a room kept for him and lived there for long periods together.

When Girtin was living at St George’s Row late in his life,

Lady Gower afterwards Duchess of Sutherland was a frequent visitor there with other leading people – all were shown up into his painting room and he used to go on with his work, chatting, telling anecdotes etc surrounded with visitors – he was a most delightful companion and extremely liberal of his knowledge so much so that his father in law complained and thought he was wrong to let artists see him paint so frequently.

Hog claimed that Girtin died

not as is stated of an asthma, but of ossification of the heart. … He was indefatigable in his profession, sitting out in all weathers to sketch from nature – The large drawing of the Mill in the possession of Mr Girtin was painted in the rain – When his illness was gaining on him he was advised to go to the cape of Good Hope for his health, but many of his friends persuaded him not to go so far away and he went to Paris with a passport from the Secretary of State – and there made his set of drawings of Paris – But returned much worse. 

When at Lord Essex’s he used to write home to his wife letters in rhyme and under his drawings scraps of poetry. 

After the death of Thomas Girtin his widow married again – a Mr Cohen who sold the Panorama of London to some persons in Russia.

He painted two large views of Harewood House in oil.

Summer 1852

Notes by Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85), an early historian of the watercolour profession, on a conversation with the artist and collector Edmund Dorrell (1778–1857). Dorrell was the owner of St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand (TG1396) (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/12)

Girtin used to destroy a vast number of drawings. If he made a mistake in any of the tints he used to throw that drawing away

3 June 1852

Notes by Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85), an early historian of the watercolour profession, on a visit to the artist’s son, Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74), ‘a medical man living in Canonbury Square’ (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/13)

Jenkins recounts the family tradition that the artist

made an excursion to Scotland in company with Geo. Morland – They took their passage by sea and in order to observe the character and to sketch the sailors they took up their position in the men’s cabin. This love of the picturesque was converted by the detractors of Thos Girtin into a love of low society and intemperate habits and the fact of Morland being his companion may have tended to confirm the impression. The reports of his intemperance were entirely contradicted by his family, on the contrary they assert that he was a water drinker and far more temperate than most young men of his day; and from his being so much with Lord Essex – the Earl of Harewood and other patrons of distinction who patronized him, acquired a relish for refined society, so much so that he used to say, with a touch of affectation to be, perhaps, forgiven in so young a man – that he had a dislike for all other.

Mr Girtin told me that his father only painted two pictures in oil, besides the Panorama of London. But, he could never learn what had become of them.

He also said, that twice he had written to Turner upon some matter of interest to him about his father but that Turner never had the courtesy to reply to his letters. 

Thomas Girtin was a great lover of River scenery and one of his modes of study on the Thames was by getting on to the barges or by being carried up and down the River sketching as he was floated along.


12 July 1852

Notes by Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85), an early historian of the watercolour profession, on a visit to the noted collector and benefactor of the British Museum Chambers Hall (1786–1855) (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/14)

Jenkins views Hall’s ‘collection of Girtins which is very numerous’ and records his favourable impression of works such as ‘Kirkstall Abbey from the meadows’ (TG1635), ‘a careful study of a water fall’ (TG1319) and ‘many charming little scraps from his pocket sketch book’. Most significantly, he also notes that the ‘last drawing that Girtin ever made’ – St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury (TG1756) – was ‘dated and written under by his brother’.

Hall then recalled how he had obtained ‘some of the principal drawings in his collection’ from John Jackson (d.1828), ‘a wealthy timber merchant’ who he wrongly believed was the artist’s father-in-law.

He had written to Mr Jackson from Southampton requesting to know if he intended to part with any of the drawings he possessed of Girtins – and receiving no reply – about six months after he came to town determined to call – when he arrived at Mr Jackson’s House there was a carriage at the door and he could hear some persons at high words within. He knocked and was informed Mr Jackson was not at home. Immediately after, Mr Jackson presented himself saying ‘yes I am at home’ – A Gentleman entered the carriage, and drove away – when he had gone Jackson said to Mr Hall I am at home to you because I used you ill in not replying to your letter if it had not been for that I should not have seen you – do you know who that was who just left? - No? – It was the Earl of Essex who wants my drawings – but I would part with them - he offended me he would not take an answer and so I quarrelled with him and I have been at high woulds about it

Hall ‘begged to be allowed to look round the room in which the Drawings were hanging – was pressed to stay and dine’ and made Jackson’s acquaintance. Jackson’s financial position being somewhat precarious

Mr Hall ventured to say that he should like to have a drawing or two – and to his surprise was informed that he should have which he liked - he fixed upon that, and that, and I should like that – in all about five – a sum was agreed upon and Mr Hall took them out of the frames and carried them off with him in triumph – subsequently he secured some others.

Girtin was a worthy match for his father in law must have soon become reconciled to him - as he supplied him with money and accompanied about – Mr hall exhibited me a drawing taken from the window of the old Toy Inn Hampton Court looking across to Moulsey. Jackson promised him a capital dinner but insisted that he should make a drawing first - which he did – and it was the custom of his father in law to entertain him.

When Girtin was about to proceed to Paris, his father in law accompanied him as far as Dover where he made a few sketches, when Mr Jackson left him to proceed on his journey – Two days after, he was astonished to meet Girtin in London by accident. Mr Jackson expressed his astonishment when Girtin explained by telling his not to be angry – “he had only returned to take a farewell of a Lady whom he had forgotten to take leave of at the time of his departure” – he would proceed at once to Paris – which he did –

Turner had a great idea of Girtin’s powers – Dining one day at the same table with Mr Hall, and speaking of Girtin, Turner said “Tom was a brilliant fellow” and also expressed great admiration of his abilities.

Mr Hall stated that from all he gathered from Girtin’s father in law, Mr Jackson, the account of Girtin’s ? was true – the anecdote of his return from Paris to make his address to some fair lady seems like a scapegrace trick.

Given that Girtin’s wife was eight months pregnant at the time, Hall’s story has not surprisingly been used as evidence of the artist’s ‘complex private life’ (Hill, 1996, p.14). However, the credibility of Hall’s recollection of Jackson’s story, fifty years after the event, is undermined by his mistaken belief that Jackson was the artist’s father-in-law – he was in fact related by marriage to the artist’s brother, John Girtin (1773–1821). 

Late 1852

Notes by Joseph John Jenkins (1811–85), an early historian of the watercolour profession, on a conversation with the artist James Holland (1799–1870) (Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society, J39/16)

Girtin taught many persons in the higher circles of Society – the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland &c – but Lady Farnborough was his favourite pupil – The Duchess used to say that Girtin told Lady Farnborough every thing – he used to point out the time of the day the cast shadows and particular effects suited to the time and scene etc – a mode of teaching far in advance of the time – Holland Who had it from the Duchess

1800 - 1801

Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning



Kirkstall Abbey, from the Canal, Evening



Buildings by a Road, with Passing Figures



A Village Scene



The Ouse Bridge, York



York: The New Walk on the Banks of the River Ouse


(?) 1799

A Mill in Essex



Conwy Castle, from the River Gyffin


(?) 1800

St Vincent’s Rocks and the Avon Gorge


1800 - 1805

Rievaulx Abbey


1795 - 1796

St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand



Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Hill


(?) 1798

The Cain Falls (Pistyll Cain), near Dolgellau


(?) 1802

St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury