Thomas Girtin (1775–1802): An Online Catalogue, Archive and Introduction to the Artist By Greg Smith

  • 4 October 2022

Online and open-access:

A groundbreaking free online resource documenting the watercolours and drawings of the pioneering artist Thomas Girtin

This new online publication offers an authoritative record of the complete works of Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), a key figure from the “golden age” of British watercolour. Girtin and his contemporaries – including his friend and associate J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) – are widely recognised as radically opening up the expressive potential of watercolour. During a tragically short career, Girtin epitomised the revolutionary transformation of the medium – creating works that embodied artistic “genius” and changing what had been a prosaic medium into the vehicle for some of the most luminous images in art history.

Completely free to access, the online catalogue is a major resource for everyone interested in the golden age of British watercolour, the major artists of the era and their legacies. The website incorporates innovative features that enable image selection and juxtaposition. Copious interlinking between records generates a comprehensive picture of the artist, his contemporaries and the development of the art world since his death.

Greg Smith’s meticulously compiled catalogue documents more than 1,550 drawings and watercolours, doubling the works previously identified by Thomas Girtin and David Loshak in their 1954 monograph on the artist. Extensive new photography has been commissioned to offer fully illustrated entries (often with comparative and source material) that are each described in substantive texts. Digitisation has led to the discovery of the sources for a large number of Girtin’s watercolours, including the substantial number of drawings that he produced in collaboration with Turner early in his career. A series of long-form essays frame Girtin’s life and work, supplemented by a comprehensive archive of sales, exhibitions, publications and transcriptions of early biographical accounts and newly discovered manuscript material.

Greg Smith is an independent art historian, who has published extensively on the history of British watercolours and watercolourists. He curated the exhibitions Thomas Girtin: The Art of Watercolour (Tate Britain, 2002), Thomas Jones (1742–1803): An Artist Rediscovered (National Gallery of Wales, 2003) and In Front of Nature: The European Landscapes of Thomas Fearnley (Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 2012–13).

Thumbnail caption: John Opie (1761–1807), Portrait of Thomas Girtin, 1800–05, oil on canvas, 77 × 64 cm, 30¼ × 25¼ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (O.1997.2).