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Works Thomas Girtin after Jacques Swebach-Desfontaines

Paris: The Entrance to the Hôtel du Grand Prieur du Temple

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1910: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Jacques Swebach-Desfontaines (1769–1823), Paris: The Entrance to the Hôtel du Grand Prieur du Temple, (?) 1802, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 10.2 × 23.9 cm, 4 × 9 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1863,0110.252).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Artist's source: Pierre-Gabriel Berthault (1737–1831), after Jacques Swebach-Desfontaines (1769–1823), etching and engraving, 'Translation de Louis Capet et de sa Famille au Temple' (The Family of Louis XVI Being Conveyed to the Temple), 1801, 24 × 29 cm, 9 ½ × 11 ⁷⁄₁₆ in. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris (40249847).

Photo courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Jacques Swebach-Desfontaines (1769-1823)
  • Paris: The Entrance to the Hôtel du Grand Prieur du Temple
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
10.2 × 23.9 cm, 4 × 9 ⅜ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary Foreign
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; Paris and Environs

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Henderson (1764–1843); then by descent to John Henderson II (1797–1878); presented to the Museum, 1863


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.26 as 'The Arsenal, Paris'; Halliday, 1983, pp.298–99

About this Work

The attribution of this Parisian scene, which was formerly known as ‘The Arsenal, Paris’, was questioned in the Girtin Archive (14), where it was suggested that it could be the work of the amateur artist John Henderson (1764–1843). However, the discovery that it is based on the print Translation de Louis Capet et de sa Famille au Temple le 13 Aoust 1792 (The Family of Louis XVI Being Conveyed to the Temple 13 August 1792) (see the source image above) has not only resulted in the correct identification of the scene as the seventeenth-century entrance to the palace of the prior of the Knights Hospitallers – successors to the Templars – but also confirmed the attribution to Girtin, since it explains the reason for the all too evident difficulties the artist had with the perspective of the long structure. This is therefore another case of Girtin using a secondary source for a Parisian scene that one might have assumed that he had sketched on the spot during his stay in the winter and early spring of 1801–2, since the temple would have been no more than a fifteen-minute walk from his lodgings. Unlike the other prints that the artist used as a source for his French architectural subjects, however, this was not one of the high-quality topographical views engraved for the Voyage Pittoresque de la France (such as TG1896 and TG1906) (La Borde and others, 1781–1800). The very pedestrian depiction of the buildings is subservient to a recent historical scene, the transportation of the royal family to their imprisonment in the early days of the French Revolution. None of this is apparent in Girtin’s version, however, which strips out the contemporary event from the architectural view and takes up the challenge of creating something visually interesting out of what is otherwise a banal street scene. It is certainly true that this is not Girtin at his best, but the figures are quite inventive (substituting for the crowd of soldiers and spectators), there is a good detail of the sort of vehicle employed by the artist in his own trips around the city (replacing the royal carriage), and the composition is nicely adapted to the unconventional panoramic format he favoured. Indeed, Girtin’s free treatment of his source is also characteristic of his approach, as he focuses on a contemporary street scene at the expense of any reference to the violent events of the previous decade: his were picturesque views of Paris, not historical paintings. 

Whether Girtin acquired the engraving in Paris and subsequently used it back in Britain cannot be said with any certainty, but I suspect that indeed may have been the case and that it was therefore one of the ‘French prints of Shipping bound and 5 D.o. Landscapes unbound’ that were recorded amongst the sundry items left in his studio on his death in November 1802 (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804; Smith, 2017–18, p.35).1 Although there is some uncertainty about when the print was published, a date of 1801 would seem to rule out, in this case, the possibility that Girtin made his copy prior to the trip to France. 

(?) 1802

Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny


(?) 1802

Paris: The Hôtel de Ville and the Church of Saint-Jean-en-Grève


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The financial records of John Girtin covering the income he received from the sale of the contents of his brother's studio, as well as from the  Eidometropolis and the twenty aquatints of the Picturesque Views in Paris, together with a detailed account of the expenses from both projects, are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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