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Creator:
Thomas Girtin, 1775–1802, British
Title:

Estuary on the River Taw, Devon

Additional Title(s):

An Unidentified Estuary

Date:
ca. 1797
Medium:
Watercolor over graphite on moderately thick, rough, beige, laid paper
Dimensions:
10 5/16 x 17 3/4 inches (26.2 x 45.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1975.3.1024
Classification:
Drawings & Watercolors
Collection:
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
estuary | landscape | river
Associated Places:
Devon | England | Europe | Taw | United Kingdom
Access:
View by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: The Study Room is open by appointment. Please visit the Study Room page on our website for more details.
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5841
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Girtin’s sweeping view along the coast of Devon derives from a tour of England’s West Country in 1797. While Girtin had trained as a topographer, in this instance he has avoided giving a detailed rendering of this stretch of coast, focusing instead on the landscape’s general characteristics and abstract qualities: the variety and contrast between enclosed fields and open spaces; the dark hills and the pale, flat plains; sand and grassland; the open sea and the meandering river.

Gallery label for Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17)
By 1794 Girtin had left Dayes's studio and fallen into the circle around Thomas Monro. Tradition has it that Girtin and Dayes parted on poor terms, and it is true that Dayes was sharply critical of his pupil's later style. The watershed for Girtin was his attendance at Monro's Academy, where he met his exact contemporary Turner. There he was exposed to Monro's collection, especially the watercolors of John Robert Cozens (cat. nos. 17-20) and the drawings of Canaletto. According to Joseph Farington, Girtin was paid by Monro to draw copies of Cozens's watercolors, which Turner was then handed to color (cat. no. 44). Estuary on the River Taw, Devon reflects some of the lessons Girtin learned while working for Monro. The specific details of this work have only recently come to light. It is now known to represent a view in Devon, probably what is now the resort of Westward Ho! on Barnstaple Bay and not a Yorkshire scene as previously supposed. Although its exact date is disputed, a date of around 1797 seems most plausible. Girtin made a tour of the West Country in 1797, while still studying the work of J. R. Cozens. In this watercolor, he took a sweeping view along the coast using broad, wet washes laid on a granular paper in a manner similar to Cozens's technique. Just as Cozens aspired to produce landscapes where color and form were the central narrative elements, here it is the formal characteristics of the landscape that commanded Girtin's attention; there is no attempt, for example, to provide specific information about the region's economy or its notable features. The fact that this scene in Devon could have been mistaken for the very different terrain of Yorkshire indicates the extent to which Girtin generalized this coastal view: that it happened to be in Devon was irrelevant to Girtin's art. He searched out the land's abstract qualities: the variety and contrast between enclosed fields and open spaces; the dark hills and the pale, flat plains; sand and grassland; the open sea and the meandering river. This implies a picturesque aesthetic where the landscape's formal properties take precedence over all other features. It also registers a growing awareness of the distinctive qualities of the British landscape. Although he did not travel abroad until 1801, when Girtin did cross the Channel, he complained that the French landscape was entirely unsuited to painting being "spotty, naked, having no hedges and trees only where there are forests." It lacked those picturesque qualities Girtin believed were the essence of the landscape painter's art.

Matthew Hargraves

Hargraves, Matthew, and Scott Wilcox. Great British Watercolors: from the Paul Mellon collection. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2008, pp. 93-95, no. 40

Presences of Nature - British Landscape 1780-1830 (Yale Center for British Art, 1982-10 - 1983-02) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (The State Hermitage Museum, 2007-10-23 - 2008-01-13) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007-07-11 - 2007-09-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Thomas Girtin and the Art of Watercolour (Tate Britain, 2002-07-04 - 2002-09-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Thomas Girtin (Yale Center for British Art, 1986-01-21 - 1986-03-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

English Landscape (Paul Mellon Collection) 1630-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-07-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

British Art at Yale, Apollo, v.105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 272, 274, fig. 11, N5220 M552 A7 1977 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Published as April 1977 issue of Apollo; all of the articles may also be found in bound Apollo Volume [N1 A54 105:2 +] [YCBA]

Louis Hawes, Presences of Nature : British Landscape, 1780-1830, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1982, pp. 25, 128, no. II.5, pl. 17, ND1354.4 H38 (YCBA) [YCBA]

International Exhibition 1862 : Official Catalogue of the Fine Art Department, Truscott, Son, & Simmons, London, 1862, p. 52, no. 888, Available online at World's Fairs : A Global History of Expositions (Yale Internet Resource) [ORBIS]

Leeds Art Gallery, Early English water colours ; October 8-November 23, 1958, Leeds City Art Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds, 1958, p. 22, no. 57, ND1733 .L4 L444 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Susan Morris, Thomas Girtin, 1775-1802, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1986, pp. 46, 75, no. 87, NJ18 .G44 M67 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Graham Reynolds, English Landscape 1630-1850, Apollo, vol.105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 272, 274, fig. 11, N1 A54 105:2 + (YCBA) Another copy of this article may be found in a separately bound and catalogued copy of this issue located on the Mellon Shelf [call number : N5220 M552 A7 1977 + (YCBA)] [YCBA]

Royal Academy of Arts, The Girtin collection : watercolours by Thomas Girtin and other masters : Royal Academy of Arts Diploma Gallery, London, 1962, p. 28, no. 150, ND1928 .G57 1962 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Christopher White, English landscape, 1630-1850, drawings, prints & books from the Paul Mellon Collection , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1977, p. 66, no. 116, pl. XX, NC228 W45 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale Center for British Art, Great British watercolors : from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 95-96, no. 40, ND1928 .Y35 2007 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]


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