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Works Thomas Girtin

The View from the Palace Terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Aqueduct of Marly in the Distance: Pencil Study for Plate Sixteen of Picturesque Views in Paris


Primary Image: TG1884: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The View from the Palace Terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Aqueduct of Marly in the Distance: Pencil Study for Plate Sixteen of 'Picturesque Views in Paris', 1802, graphite on laid paper, 14.5 × 45.3 cm, 5 ¾ × 17 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1868,0328.358).

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

Print after: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), soft-ground etching, The View from the Palace Terrace at Saint Germain-en-Laye, the Aqueduct of Marly in the Distance, 9 August 1802, 15.2 × 46.7 cm, 6 × 18 ⅜ in. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1977.14.20227).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The View from the Palace Terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Aqueduct of Marly in the Distance: Pencil Study for Plate Sixteen of Picturesque Views in Paris
Medium and Support
Graphite on laid paper
14.5 × 45.3 cm, 5 ¾ × 17 ¾ in

‘View taken of from pallace terrace at St. Germain en laye’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin; 'Gr vine' lower centre, by Thomas Girtin; ‘19’ lower right

Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Panoramic Format; Paris and Environs; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
468 as 'View from the Palace Terrace at St.-Germain-en-Laye'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 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

Exhibition History

London, 2002, no.95


Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, pp.496–97; Binyon, 1898–1907, no.79; Warrell, 1999, pp.210–11

About this Work


This view from the palace terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, looking out over the Seine valley, was drawn on the spot by Girtin early in 1802 in preparation for plate sixteen of his Picturesque Views in Paris (see print after TG1884a). Having completed a series of highly detailed panoramic views in the French capital, Girtin engaged the help of the playwright Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809) to ‘take views in the environs of Paris’ in a series of ‘short excursions’ to the sites ‘esteemed the most picturesque’ by contemporary French artists, though, ironically, the closest comparison with this drawing that I have found is by another British visitor, William Marlow (1740–1813) (see figure 1) (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, p.488).1 Holcroft’s account of their trips, published in 1804, provides the only direct evidence we have of Girtin’s sketching practice, including, in this case, the fact that unlike in the city views, for which the artist almost certainly employed a camera obscura, here he worked freehand and at some speed. As Holcroft put it, though Girtin’s drawings were ‘not finished … all the objects were in their proper place, and sufficiently made out for him to accurately understand his own intentions’ (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, pp.491). Holcroft then recorded that following their visit to Versailles, where Girtin was not tempted to sketch a single subject, the two men moved on to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where, at ‘the foot of the terrace’, a fine view of the Seine valley could be seen from a vineyard. The ailing Girtin ‘by the aid of a good natured peasant and myself’ was helped to make ‘his descent; and, seating himself at an angle formed by the embankment and terrace wall, made a drawing’ of a view that, according to Holcroft, may have lacked the ‘verdure and the foliage of English scenery … but the charms of novelty richly compensated their absence’ (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, pp.496–97). The palace itself, which at this time was being used as a barracks, is out of sight in Girtin’s view, and the small domed buildings seen at the top of the scene are actually part of the Château Neuf, built by Henri II (1519–59); it was their partly ruined terrace gardens into which the artist descended to get his view of the Seine valley.

Although these works are different in character from the city sketches, the artist continued to use the same support, which, as the paper historian Peter Bower has noted, is a 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 may have been made twenty years earlier.

Girtin’s soft-ground etching (see the print after, above) was published separately from the finished aquatint, on 9 August 1802. To create this autograph print, the artist first traced his own drawing, reversing the image in the process (see figure 2), 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, one of which survives in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (see figure 3). A note in pencil next to the left pavilion reads: ‘This is too strong being a white object’.


The View from the Palace Terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Aqueduct of Marly in the Distance: Colour Study for Plate Sixteen of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Holcroft’s unique eye-witness account of Girtin at work, 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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