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Works John Opie

Sketch of Thomas Girtin's Head

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1930: John Opie (1761–1807), Sketch of Thomas Girtin's Head, 1800–01, oil on canvas, 44.5 × 33.7 cm, 17 ½ × 13 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

John Opie (1761-1807)
  • Sketch of Thomas Girtin's Head
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Oil on canvas
44.5 × 33.7 cm, 17 ½ × 13 ¼ in
Object Type
Oil painting
Subject Terms
Portrait of Thomas Girtin

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Girtin and Loshak, 1954


Richard G. Briscoe (1893–1957); then by descent to Michael Guy Molesworth Bevan (d.1992) of Longstowe Hall

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1953a, no.17


Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.219

About this Work

Thomas Holcroft

This rapidly worked oil sketch was presumably made from life, though it is not known precisely when the portraitist John Opie (1761–1807) painted his likeness of Girtin. Opie went on to produce as many as half a dozen larger completed versions of the portrait in two different formats, presumably referring back to this prototype, as and when he received a commission; mainly, it seems, this was after Girtin’s death in November 1802, though none of the portraits are actually dated. The larger-format portraits include more of the figure than is recorded here (TG1924, TG1929 and TG1931), and Opie improvised the brush and palette that specify Girtin’s occupation as an artist. It is not known when and how the two artists met, but it may have been through the agency of the dramatist Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809), whom Opie painted on a number of occasions (see figure 1) and whose collection Girtin viewed in early 1799 (Holcroft, 1816, vol.3, p.129). All three men shared radical sympathies and Holcroft went on to record Girtin’s views on landscape painting as well as details of his sketching practice during his stay in Paris (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, pp.488–98).1

Following Girtin’s death in his studio off the Strand, the sculptor George Garrard (1760–1826) took ‘a Cast of the Face in Plaster of Paris’ and, using the ‘Portrait painted by Mr Opie’, he produced a carved bust that was advertised for sale a couple of months later (Morning Post, 22 January 1803). The commemorative sculpture, which he sent to the British School exhibition in 1803, was last seen at a sale in 1842 (Exhibitions: Foster’s, 30 June 1842, lot 68), though its form was preserved in a bust by Edward Onlsow Ford (1852–1901) that was used on the facade of the gallery built in 1883 for the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in Piccadilly. The death mask reappeared in 1935 ‘but was destroyed through the foolishness of a female descendant’, according to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.220).

1800 - 1805

Portrait of Thomas Girtin


1800 - 1805

Portrait of Thomas Girtin


1800 - 1805

Portrait of Thomas Girtin


by Greg Smith


  1. 1 Holcroft’s unique eye-witness account of Girtin at work during the excursions they undertook in and around Paris in the early spring of 1802, published in the second volume of Travels from Hamburg, through Westphalia, Holland, and the Netherlands, to Paris, is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 – Item 1).

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