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Works Thomas Girtin after (?) John Cleveley the Younger

An Icelandic Woman with Her Young Daughter


Artist's source: John Cleveley the Younger (1747-86), An Icelandic Girl Under Ten Years of Age,1772, watercolour and pen and ink on paper, 27.7 × 22.3 cm, 8 ⁷⁄₁₆ × 11 in. British Library, London (Add Ms 15512, f.7).

Photo courtesy of The British Library Board (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) John Cleveley the Younger (1747-1786)
  • An Icelandic Woman with Her Young Daughter
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper

‘copied by Thomas Gurton in 1790 from a Drawing with Cooperation of Sir Joseph Banks by J Cleverley Jun. 1772’ on the original ruled mount.

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Figure Study; Icelandic View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


John Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley of Alderly (1766–1850); then by descent to Suzanne Beadle; her sale, Christie’s, 15 June 1982, lot 19iv; bought by the Icelandic Government

About this Work

This watercolour, one of Girtin’s earliest signed and dated works, was produced for John Thomas Stanley (1766–1850). Stanley travelled to Iceland in the summer of 1789, following in the footsteps of his friend the famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), who had made the journey in 1772. On his return Stanley commissioned Philip Reinagle (1749–1833), Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821) and Girtin’s master at the time, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), to work up many of his sketches into finished watercolours as records of his trip. In 1790 Stanley also employed the fifteen-year-old Girtin, then in the second year of his apprenticeship to Dayes, to make copies of some of the watercolours that Banks had commissioned following his 1772 trip to Iceland, though the fee from the artist’s first professional engagement would have gone to his master. In all Girtin made nine watercolours based on an earlier set of drawings made for Banks by John Frederick Miller (1759–96), James Miller (active 1773–1814) and John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86). Having failed to publish them as engravings, Banks had them mounted as a souvenir of his northern journey. The four volumes, titled Drawings Illustrative of Sir Joseph Banks’s Voyage to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland, are today kept in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Library (Add Mss 15509–12). Girtin’s first dated works, which were sold by a descendant of Stanley in 1982, therefore depict a country that he did not visit and were careful copies of watercolours made by professionals from sketches they had executed in the field twenty years earlier.

The inscription on the original mount, presumably made by Stanley, records that the watercolour was ‘copied’ after a drawing by Cleveley made in 1772, specifically with the ‘Cooperation of Sir Joseph Banks’. The original watercolours from which Girtin worked, including two other Icelandic costume studies (TG0001 and TG0010), are bound into volume four of Banks’ Voyage to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland, and the reference to the cooperation of Banks may mean that the youthful Girtin actually visited his house to make the copies. The source material, if it ever existed, has not been traced, though in this one instance it is possible that Girtin created his image of a mother and child from two drawings by Cleveley, including a study that is inscribed ‘A Girl under ten years of age’. Girtin’s watercolour has not been traced and with no photographic record it has not been possible to identify the other source for his image.

The figure and costume studies made for Banks include a ‘Poor Man of Iceland’ and other studies of peasants, but this watercolour more typically shows a higher-status pair, almost certainly Thórunn, the daughter of the deputy governor Ólafur Stephensen (1731–1812) and his wife Sigríður Magnúsdóttir (1734–1807), the last of whom appears in An Icelandic Woman in Her Bridal Dress (TG0010). The young girl wears a close-fitting cap, which will be replaced when she reaches maturity by the distinctive cone-shaped headdress worn by her mother. Visitors to Iceland were much struck by the fashion for keeping female hair completely covered. Banks spent much time with Stephensen and his family and maintained a friendship for many years after. Stanley also met Stephensen on his trip, presumably with an introduction from Banks, and so the copy commissioned from Girtin might be understood to have been more than a simple costume study. However, there is no suggestion of any personal significance in the inscription on these studies and it is unlikely that Girtin would have been aware of the social or cultural significance of the subjects he was engaged to produce. Nonetheless, copying a costume study, as with the studies that Girtin made after plates in Thomas Jefferys’ Collection of the Dresses of Different Nations, such as A French Lady of Quality in 1581 (TG0046), was a useful exercise for a student artist, and one that no doubt brought in a fee for his master, Dayes.


An Icelandic Woman in Her Riding Dress


(?) 1790

An Icelandic Woman in Her Bridal Dress


(?) 1790

An Icelandic Woman in Her Bridal Dress


1790 - 1791

A French Lady of Quality in 1581


by Greg Smith

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