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Works Thomas Girtin

John Raphael Smith: 'Waiting for the Mail Coach' (mounted on page 1 of the Whitworth Book of Drawings)

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1600: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), John Raphael Smith: 'Waiting for the Mail Coach', 1798–99, pen and ink on laid paper, mounted into the Whitworth Book of Drawings, 18.7 × 14 cm, 7 ⅜ × 5 ½ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1977.15.1).

Photo courtesy of The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Photo by Michael Pollard (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • John Raphael Smith: 'Waiting for the Mail Coach' (mounted on page 1 of the Whitworth Book of Drawings)
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Pen and ink on laid paper
18.7 × 14 cm, 7 ⅜ × 5 ½ in

‘Citizen’ upper centre, by Thomas Girtin; ‘Waiting for the / Mail Coach’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin; ‘John Raphael Smith / Sketched from the life / by T. Girtin’ lower left, in another hand; ‘2’ lower left

Part of
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Figure Studies

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
410 as 'Portrait of J. R. Smith'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2022


Sale at Platt Vicarage, Rusholme, Manchester, 1898; sketchbook bought by 'Shepherd'; then by descent to F. W. Shepherd; his sale, Sotheby’s, 7 July 1977, lot 46; bought by Baskett and Day; bought by the Gallery, 1977


Hardie, 1938–39, no.1, p.91; D’Oench, 1999, p.93, p.279

About this Work

This rapidly sketched study of the artist and engraver John Raphael Smith (1752–1812) is pasted onto the first page of the Whitworth Book of Drawings (TG1323, TG1324 and TG1600–1625), though why it was added to a collection of Girtin’s landscape sketches is not clear. According to a later tradition, Smith employed the young artist, together with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), to hand-colour prints, and it is clear that the association continued throughout Girtin’s career, partly it seems through their mutual friend and colleague George Morland (1763–1804), with whom both Girtin and Smith collaborated (Thornbury, 1862, vol.1, p.91). Moreover, Smith appears to have been an avid collector of Girtin’s works. His posthumous sale included nine lots totalling thirty-five items by Girtin, mostly sketches but also some ‘large landscapes’ and a ‘view, near Weymouth’, though Smith had first ‘left all the drawings in [his] possession by Girtin’ to his friend John Benson (1755–1811) (Exhibitions: Dodd and Holland, 28 May 1814).1 It is possible, therefore, that the book of drawings came from Smith’s own collection and that the portrait study was added as a frontispiece to mark his ownership.


This would certainly be in keeping with the very personal nature of a drawing that, as an inscription in Girtin’s hand records, was taken whilst Smith was ‘Waiting for the Mail Coach’. The engraver’s informal pose, with pipe in mouth, offers a charming contrast to his own self-portrait, which shows a younger man hard at work (see figure 1). Intriguingly, Girtin extends the pipe smoke above Smith’s head to form the word ‘Citizen’, presumably in reference to his republican sympathies, which he may well have shared with Girtin himself (D’Oench, 1999, p.98). Evidence of Girtin’s support for the radical implications of the French Revolution is not surprisingly piecemeal, but, collectively, this private image of Smith, the artist’s adoption of a cropped hairstyle in emulation of Roman republican busts (TG1933) and his association with the writer Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809), who gained much notoriety at the 1794 Treason Trials, all point to a political stance diametrically at odds with that of Tory patrons such as Edward Lascelles (1764–1814).


Profile Portrait of Thomas Girtin


by Greg Smith


  1. 1 The National Archives (Prob 11/1534, f.303r)

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