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Thomas Girtin, 1775–1802

Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire

Watercolor with pen in gray ink over graphite on moderately thick, moderatetly textured, brown wove paper
Sheet: 15 1/16 x 11 3/8 inches (38.3 x 28.9 cm)

Signed in pen and brown ink, lower right: "T. Girtin. 1794"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
architectural subject | cathedral | clouds | doorway | drinking fountain | fence | figures | grass | spires | tea kettle | windows | women
Associated Places:
England | Europe | Lichfield | Lichfield Cathedral | Staffordshire | United Kingdom
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IIIF Manifest:

By the end of the end of the eighteenth century, Thomas Girtin and J.M.W. Turner had elevated landscape painting in watercolors to a new level of sophistication and laid the groundwork for the Romantic landscape painting of the new century. Although Girtin would die only two years into that new century, Turner would go on to build on those foundations one of the greatest achievements of British art. In the early 1790s both Turner and Girtin were young topographical artists in training. Girtin was apprenticed to Edward Dayes in 1789. As part of his apprenticeship, he, along with Dayes, worked up in pencil sketches made by the linen draper and antiquarian James Moore on his tours. The Yale Center for British Art has two volumes of Moore's sketches from a tout of Scotland and the north of England in 1792, as well as several watercolors by both Dayes and Girtin based on sketches in the volumes.

In the same year that Girtin was apprenticed to Dayes, Turned began working in the studio of Thomas Malton and entered the Royal Academy Schools. Turner sent his first watercolor to the Royal Academy exhibition the following year. In 1793, he exhibited a watercolor of the "Gate of St. Augustine's Monastery, Canterbury." Although the evidence is not conclusive, this would appear to be a work now untraced; however, it is possible that the work exhibited at the Royal Academy is cat. 144. Another smaller watercolor version of the composition is also in the Yale Center for British Art. In 1794 turner and Girtin were working together copying drawing by John Robert Cozens and Thomas Hearne at the "academy" that Dr. Thomas Monro held at his home in the Adelphi Terrace in the evenings. Monro, a specialist in mental disorders, was looking after Cozens following his mental breakdown early in 1794 and had access to Cozen's studio. That same year Girtin exhibited his watercolors for the first time at the Royal Academy, and in the autumn he accompanied James Moore on a tour of the Midlands. The watercolor of Litchfield Cathedral, deriving from the tour, was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year and bought from the exhibition by Moore. While it is still very much indebted to the Dayes style, it has a drama, achieved largely though the play of light and shadow across the forms of the cathedral, that shows that he had learned from the example of Cozen's watercolors.

Turner too learned from Cozens the light that plays across St. Augustine's gate in Turner's watercolor of approximately the same date has a similar dramatic character. Indeed Girtin's Litchfield Cathedral and Turner's St. Augustine's Gate demonstrate how close stylistically these two young colleagues and rivals were at this early point in their careers.

Scott Wilcox

Gallery label for The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05)

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

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

Randall Davies, Thomas Girtin's water-colours, The Studio, London, 1924, p. 1, pl. 13, J18 .G445 +924D (LSF) [ORBIS]

Thomas Girtin, The art of Thomas Girtin, A. and C. Black, London, 1954, pp. 145-6, no. 88i, NJ18 G44 G445 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Jonathan Mayne, Thomas Girtin, F. Lewis, Publishers, Limited, Leigh-on-Sea, 1949, pp. 31, 79, NJ18 .G44 G445 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Susan Morris, Thomas Girtin, 1775-1802, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1986, pp. 12, 37, 56, no. 20, NJ18 .G44 M67 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Royal Academy of Arts, Exhibition Catalogue. 1795. 28th, Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, no. 28, London, 1795, p. 17, no. 636, N 5054 A53 15-29 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, pp. 167-9, no. 143, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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