Art Wednesday: Thomas Girtin

Jedburgh Abbey from the river, 1798-99

Artist: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Born: London
Watercolorist - who played a key role in establishing watercolour as a reputable art form

This is the sad tale of Thomas Girtin who died at the tender age of 27 reportedly from asthma and quickly forgotten in the art world.  While Girtin was forgotten, his close friend and rival - William Turner went on to become one of Britain's greatest painters.   However, together they revolutionized the watercolour.  When Turner heard of the death of his friend he is reported to have remark, "Had Tom Girtin lived I should have starved". The fact was, Turner always believed that Girtin was the far better painter.

Even though traditionally taught, Girtin wanted his emotions to come through into the painting so he abandoned his training and painting with his heart and soul. Thereby introduced the romantic style in English landscape painting.  And you can clearly see that passion and emotion in all of his paintings (and likewise those of Turner).

Girtin exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1794.

In 1800 Girtin married Mary Ann Borrett, the sixteen year old daughter of a well-to-do City goldsmith, and set up home in St George's Row, Hyde Park.  Sadly he died 2 years later.

Girtin stayed at Lindefarne Castle on the north east coast of Britain (likewise Turner) and loved painting the raw elements of the castle and sea. He would paint outside in the icy cold and that, it is said, contributed to his health and early death.
You could easily mistake this for an early Turner painting.
The ruins of Middleham Castle, Yorkshire
 Eidometropolis, a panorama of London (watercolour and pencil on paper)
This huge painting - 18 feet high and 108 feet in circumference - was exhibited with success in 1802. In fact the size caused problems in finding a suitable location to hang it. It was notable for its naturalistic treatment of urban light and atmosphere.  He died not long after it was completed.  It was believed that his asthma was brought on by the many hours he spent out doors in all weather.
Durham Cathedral and Castle
There is a gentleness to these paintings that is often not found in Turners.
The Overshot mill, 1798
Street in Weymouth, Dorset


Here are a few examples of William Turner
He will appear in another Art Wednesday as I am quite fond of Turner.
The Slave Ship
The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1839



  1. Some of those are really beautiful!! Very talented.

  2. Wow...just phenomenal! Thank you for the history with the art...very interesting! xxx

  3. How unique...just beautiful, thanks again for introducing me to another wonderful artist

  4. What an interesting but sad story. If he was asthmatic, the cold air could well have caused his early death, as could some of the mediums he used for his works.
    I love the colours in his pieces!
    I think I prefer water-colours to any other style of painting.
    Turner is wonderful too, but I agree that there's a lovely softness to this painters creations.
    Really beautiful,Jo.

  5. "You could easily mistake this for an early Turner painting."
    I'm pretty sure that is a Turner painting - called Lucerne by Moonlight.


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