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Works Thomas Girtin

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


Primary Image: TG1866: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Pont Saint Michel, from the Pont Neuf: Pencil Study for Plate Four of 'Picturesque Views in Paris', 1802, graphite on two pieces of laid paper, 16.1 × 23.8 cm and 16.1 × 16.5 cm (16.1 × 40.3 cm); 6 ⅜ × 9 ¼ in and 6 ⅜ × 6 ½ in (6 ⅜ × 15 ¾ in). British Museum, London (1868,0328.347).

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

Print after: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), soft-ground etching, Pont St Michel, from Pont Neuf, 28 June 1802, 17.8 × 37.3 cm, 7 × 14 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.20203).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Pont Saint Michel, from the Pont Neuf: Pencil Study for Plate Four of 'Picturesque Views in Paris'
Medium and Support
Graphite on two pieces of laid paper
16.1 × 23.8 cm and 16.1 × 16.5 cm (16.1 × 40.3 cm); 6 ⅜ × 9 ¼ in and 6 ⅜ × 6 ½ in (6 ⅜ × 15 ¾ in)
Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; Panoramic Format; Paris and Environs; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
462 as 'Pont-St.-Michel, from Pont-Neuf'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Girtin (1773–1821); bought by John Jackson (d.1828); his posthumous sale, Foster’s, 24 April 1828, lot 321; bought by 'Tiffin'; ... 'Colnaghi'; bought from them by the Museum, 1868


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.67; Halliday, 1983, pp.291–92

About this Work

This view of the Pont Saint Michel and the towers of Notre Dame, taken from the Pont Neuf, was drawn on the spot by Girtin early in 1802 in preparation for plate four of his Picturesque Views in Paris (see print after TG1866b). Frustrated in his attempt to show his London panorama in Paris, Girtin took up the suggestion of his patron Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827) and made a series of detailed pencil drawings of the French capital, which he reproduced as soft-ground etchings on his return to London in May, though they were not finally published until after his death, with the addition of aquatint to create tones similar to those in his watercolours (Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, p.8; Smith, 2017–18, pp.32–35). The brief cessation of hostilities between Britain and France, known as the Peace of Amiens, attracted thousands of British visitors to Paris, and so Girtin’s prints were targeted at a tourist audience keen for souvenirs of their trip and who prized carefully rendered details of the city’s buildings and inhabitants. To ensure such fidelity, Girtin appears to have employed a camera obscura for about half of the pencil drawings, and the modest size of this instrument required him to use small pieces of paper from which he assembled his mostly panoramic images of the scenery along the river Seine. All but one of the supports used by Girtin in the twenty-one Paris sketches he produced has been identified by the paper historian Peter Bower as the same cream laid writing paper, made by the Blauw and Briel company in Holland (Smith, 2002b, p.141; Bower, Report). This, he believes, was bought by Girtin in Paris, and it may have been made up to twenty years earlier. 

Girtin’s soft-ground etching (see the print after, above) was published separately from the finished aquatint, on 28 June 1802. To create this autograph print, the artist first traced his own drawing, reversing the image in the process (see figure 1) and then, using the tracing as a template, impressed the lines onto an etching plate coated in a tacky ground of an acid-resistant mix. Lifting the tracing and taking away the ground where the lines had been pushed in, he would then have immersed the plate in acid, which would have bitten into the unprotected areas. Cleaned up, the plate, with the etched lines now according with the direction of Girtin’s original drawing, could then be used to print from. Such a complex procedure employed by a novice printmaker like Girtin no doubt required a number of proof stages. The impression that has survived of this print includes changes marked by Girtin in pencil (see figure 2), notably on the carriages on the quay to the left and on the buildings to the right. 

The view south east from the Pont Neuf is centred on the seventeenth-century bridge that linked Place Saint Michel on the left bank of the Seine to the Ile de la Cité. The old Pont Saint Michel consisted of four spans of circular arches that were surmounted by two rows of houses that were to be swept away in 1808. In contrast to the areas shown in the views of the Louvre and Tuileries seen in plates one and two (see prints after TG1862b and TG1864a), the medieval heart of Paris, centred on the cathedral of Notre Dame, was much more crowded, and, conceived on a more human scale, it offered the artist a suitably picturesque subject. Girtin, it seems, had already made a similar watercolour from a nearby position on the Pont Neuf (TG1867). However, finding the practice of sketching ‘on a Large scale, and to Colour on the spot’ to be ‘tedious’ and impractical for the twenty scenes that were to make up the print series, he made this second drawing in pencil, including the wealth of architectural detail needed for an etching (Girtin, Letter, 1802).1



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



The Tuileries Palace and the Pont Royal, Taken from the Quai d’Orsay: Colour Study for Plate One of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’



The Louvre and the Pont Royal, Taken from the Pont Neuf: Colour Study for Plate Two of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’



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


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 From a letter to the artist’s brother, John Girtin (1773–1821). The only surviving letter from Thomas Girtin includes crucial evidence about the artist’s work in Paris and is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 – Item 2).

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