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Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) - Extensive Landscape
  • Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) - Extensive Landscape

    The rivalry between Thomas Girtin and JMW Turner in their youth, spurred both on to become leading British watercolourists in the late 18th century. Turner soon also developed a skill in oil painting with his election to Associate at the Royal Academy but kept painting and exhibiting watercolours throughout his career. Girtin ultimately wanted to also be elected to the Royal Academy, and even produced an oil work on Bolton Abbey (now lost) for its exhibition in 1801. However, his untimely death in November 1802 meant this unfortunately never occurred. 


    This picture of an extensive landscape with a lake and distant rolling mountains is typical of Girtin. It is framed with an Italian capriccio perspective through the use of the trees on the left and right hand sides of the composition. This would have been learnt through other artists of the 18th century such as Richard Wilson or Paul Sandby, and also viewing Old Master works by Claude Lorrain. The location, although unknown, is reminiscent of the Lake District. Girtin never managed to visit the Lakes himself but "he did make a series of 'realisations' after Sir George Beaumont's sketches" (Smith, 2002, p.250). This work could easily be based on one of Beaumont's pictures. Other possibilities include Wales or a drawing made at Dr Monro's Academy (see Smith, 2002,  pp.123-130). Monro was a specialist physician in mental health disorders and he helped King George III and the artist John Robert Cozens. He was also a keen supporter of the arts and was a patron to many up and coming British arists. An informal academy was started at his residence in Adelphi Terrace with Monro providing dinner and also paying the artists to copy works he owned or was borrowing. Girtin and Turner were prominent early visitors to this group with many works by John Robert Cozens chosen for the evening subject. 


    In 1799 Girtin helped to start a Sketching Society with seven other artists. The group met once a week at each other's residence, with the host being the president for the evening. In turn the president could chose the subject for the gathering which was then sketched by each member in two to three hours before dinner was served. Pastoral and landscape scenes were predominatly chosen in the Girtin era of the Society (the group ran until 1849, see Hamilton, 1971, for more information). The link to this picture is that the group would always paint with grey washes and later in the Chalon Sketching Society sepia paint became more prevalent. Girtin therefore would have been used to using this technique.


    Medium: grey wash watercolour with bodycolour on paper.


    13.1 x 17 cm, framed.


    Provenance: The Little Gallery (5 Kensington Church Walk, London) - sold 5/6/82.

    The collection of J.P. Heseltine (artist and art collector who became a trustee of the National Gallery in London); Collection of Dr Edward Brett.




    Jean Hamilton. The Sketching Society 1799-1851, Exhibition Catalogue, VAM: London, 1971.

    Greg Smith. Thomas Girtin: The Art of Watercolour, Exhibition Catalogue, Tate: London, 2002.

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