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Works Thomas Girtin

Paris: The Isle de la Cité and the River Seine, Taken from the Pont Neuf


Primary Image: TG1867: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Paris: The Isle de la Cité and the River Seine, Taken from the Pont Neuf, 1802, graphite and watercolour on paper, 15.5 × 50.5 cm, 6 ⅛ × 19 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Paris: The Isle de la Cité and the River Seine, Taken from the Pont Neuf
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
15.5 × 50.5 cm, 6 ⅛ × 19 ⅞ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; Panoramic Format; Paris and Environs; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Herbert Horne (1864–1916); bought from him by Sir Edward Marsh (1872–1953), May 1904 (lent to London, 1916); bought from him by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.9707), 3 May 1920; bought by Charles Peter Allen (1861–1930), 1 March 1823, £185; his posthumous sale, Christie's, 5 December 1930, lot 28; 'Agnew', £110; Thos. Agnew & Sons; ... Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1973; James Biddle; Morton Morris & Co; Christian Humann; Sotheby's, New York, 30 April 1982, lot 104; Sotheby's, New York, 13 February 1985, lot 9

Exhibition History

London, 1916, no.106; Agnew’s, 1973, no.103

About this Work

This watercolour, showing the Pont Saint Michel with the west towers of Notre Dame behind, is closely related to the pencil drawing that Girtin made for plate four of Picturesque Views in Paris (TG1866). However, the proportions of the colour study are quite different, expanding virtually the same visual material across a considerably extended lateral view that constitutes one of the most extreme panoramic compositions of any of Girtin’s watercolours. Only some of this can be accounted for by the fact that the artist took his view from a different point on the Pont Neuf, slightly to the north, so that the towers of Notre Dame appear above the bridge with the rows of houses forming a picturesque superstructure. It may be that the pencil drawing was the result of the artist trying out a different composition – and the position of the towers is certainly more satisfactory from this angle, no longer perched precariously above the arches of the bridge – but I suspect that Girtin had a more fundamental change in mind here. Writing to his brother, John Girtin (1773–1821), just before returning from France in April 1802, Girtin noted that ‘what skeches I make are done from the windows of Hackey Coaches’, saying that ‘I altered my plan directly I got your letter’. For ‘I had then Begun to skech on a Large scale, and to Colour on the spot’, but since ‘this would have been very tedious … I am for getting the Best views I can. & merely skeches’ (Girtin, Letter, 1802).1 Girtin’s only surviving letter is not entirely clear, but I take it to mean that he began a campaign of sketching Paris in colour on a large scale but that, with a new plan to produce a set of printed views in mind, he turned to making a set of outline drawings, what he termed ‘merely skeches’. These would indeed have been much less ‘tedious’ to produce, though they still presumably required the privacy of a hackney coach at a time when an Englishman in Paris would no doubt have excited suspicion by sketching out of doors. 

Sadly, it has not been possible to view this work and thus confirm whether it was actually executed on the spot, though there is nothing in what appears to be its summary treatment of forms and limited palette to preclude this. Just as intriguing is the possibility that the work, rather than being related to the publication of the Views in Paris, was actually the outcome of the first tentative stages in the production of a panorama of Paris that might have matched Girtin’s London view, the Eidometropolis. Thus, in the same letter to John Girtin in which the artist announced his change of sketching practice, he also enquired ‘wether Haward is or is not painting the view of Paris [and] what sort of a thing it is like to be’, concluding that ‘I might then have a Tuch at Paris’. Notwithstanding the ambiguities of expression and misspelling, I suspect that this extended view may have been the residue of an aborted plan for a 360-degree view, and it is to be noted that two pairs of scenes amongst the twenty Paris prints connect to form extended scenes each covering more than 180 degrees (plates eleven and twelve and plates six and seventeen). 


The Pont Saint Michel, from the Pont Neuf: Pencil Study for Plate Four of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The letter includes crucial evidence about the artist’s work in Paris and is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 – Item 2).

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