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Works Thomas Girtin after James Miller

The House of Thorstein Jonsson at Hvaleyri, Iceland

(?) 1790

Primary Image: TG0007: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after James Miller (active 1773–1814), Mount Hekla, with Sir Joseph Banks and His Party Descending from the Volcano, 1790, graphite, pen and ink and watercolour on paper, on an original washline mount, 30.5 × 45.4 cm, 12 × 17 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of National Museum, Iceland (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: James Miller (active 1773–1814), View of Thorstein's House, Hvaleyri, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, on an original mount, 30.3 × 40.2 cm, 11 ⅞ × 15 ⅞ in. British Library, London (Add Ms 15511, f.19).

Photo courtesy of The British Library Board

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after James Miller (active 1773-1814)
  • The House of Thorstein Jonsson at Hvaleyri, Iceland
(?) 1790
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper (watermark: Strasbourg Lily), on an original lined mount
30.2 × 40.3 cm, 11 ⅞ × 15 ⅞ in
Mount Dimensions

‘View of Torsten’s house at Hvalier in Iceland. copied by T. Gurton. from a Drawing done in 1772 by James Miller’ lower centre on the original ruled mount in pen and ink; 'No.3' lower left on the original ruled mount; '2d' lower left on the original ruled mount

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Icelandic View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


John Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley of Alderly (1766–1850); then by descent to Suzanne Beadle; her sale, Christie’s, 15 June 1982, lot 19i as 'View of Forster's House in Iceland'; bought by the Icelandic Government

About this Work

This view of a house in Iceland is part of a group of very early signed and dated watercolours that Girtin produced for John Thomas Stanley (1766–1850). Stanley travelled to Iceland in the summer of 1789, following in the footsteps of his friend the famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), who had made the journey in 1772. On his return Stanley commissioned Philip Reinagle (1749–1833), Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821) and Girtin’s master at the time, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), to work up many of his sketches into finished watercolours as records of his trip. In 1790 Stanley also employed the fifteen-year-old Girtin, then in the second year of his apprenticeship to Dayes, to make copies of some of the watercolours that Banks had commissioned following his 1772 trip to Iceland, though the fee from the artist’s first professional engagement would have gone to his master. In all Girtin made nine watercolours based on an earlier set of drawings made for Banks by John Frederick Miller (1759–96), James Miller (active 1773–1814) and John Cleveley the Younger (1747–86). Having failed to publish them as engravings, Banks had them mounted as a souvenir of his northern journey. The four volumes, titled Drawings Illustrative of Sir Joseph Banks’s Voyage to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland, are today kept in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Library (Add Mss 15509–12). Girtin’s first dated works, which were sold by a descendant of Stanley in 1982, therefore depict a country that he did not visit and were careful copies of watercolours made by professionals from sketches they had executed in the field twenty years earlier.

View of Thorstein's House at Hvaleyri, Iceland

Girtin’s drawing is a copy of James Miller’s watercolour (see source image above), which bears the inscription ‘View of Torsten’s House at Hvaleire’. Thorstein Jonsson was employed by Banks as a guide and he lived in Hvaleyri, a small coastal village near to Hafnarfjörður, where the botanist landed in July 1772. Hafnarfjörður, now a suburb of Reykjavík, in the south west of Iceland, provided Banks with a base from which to explore the immediate coast prior to his expedition to Hekla (TG0005 and TG0006). Stanley chose one of three views made by Banks’ artists of the guide’s house, presumably because it contained a wealth of detail about the buildings of the area as well as the lifestyle of the coastal community as it scraped a meagre living from the principal local industry, fishing. Girtin’s copy of Miller’s watercolour illustrates the distinctive building style, which, with timber scarce, employed lava for the walls and turf for the roofs of a series of separate structures, including a drying shed for fish, a kitchen, a store house and a main living area. Beyond the male figure in the foreground (perhaps Jonsson himself) and the prominent female rider (who wears the same or similar dress as that shown in one of Girtin’s costume studies (TG0001), women and children are engaged in various activities relating to the preparation and storage of fish. The cross pole on top of the mound, which has a rather foreboding air, was used for drying out the distinctive clothes worn by the fishermen. These contrivances played an even more prominent role in another view of Jonsson’s house produced by Cleveley (figure 1), where the same female rider has dismounted, probably to give instructions to the man and the woman in their labours.

Although Banks’ draughtsmen produced many images of botanical and geological interest, at least half of the drawings that were generated by the expedition depict members of the community going about their everyday lives. Moreover, Stanley’s choice of subjects shows that he, like Banks’ ‘Philosophical Explorers’, characterised his journey as partly anthropological (Bonehill, 2014, p.10). Specifically, this meant the study of an ancient and primitive people whose costume and manners predated its current status as a Danish colony recovering from the trauma of a cataclysmic natural event (TG0006).


Mount Hekla, with Sir Joseph Banks and His Party Descending from the Volcano


(?) 1790

Lava as It Has Run Over the Ridge of a Hill, Iceland



An Icelandic Woman in Her Riding Dress


(?) 1790

Lava as It Has Run Over the Ridge of a Hill, Iceland


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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