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Works Thomas Girtin

The Watermill above the Bridge at Charenton, near Paris


Primary Image: TG1889: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Watermill above the Bridge at Charenton, near Paris, 1802, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 19.9 × 32.2 cm, 7 ⅞ × 12 ⅝ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.3).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Watermill above the Bridge at Charenton, near Paris
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
19.9 × 32.2 cm, 7 ⅞ × 12 ⅝ in

‘Girtin 1802’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Paris and Environs; River Scenery; Wind and Watermills

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
477ii as 'Water-Mill Above the Bridge at Charenton'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Samuel Woodburn (1786–1853); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 24 May 1854, lot 779 as 'A view of the bridge and mill, at Charenton, near Paris. The last work of the artist'; bought by 'Hall', £4 4s; Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

London, 1824, no.59 as ’View of the Waterfall on the Marne, above the Bridge, at Charenton’, lent by ’Messrs. Woodburn’; Coventry, 1975, no.51


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.21; Davies, 1924, pl.93; Reed, 1985, p.43

About this Work

The watermill at Charenton on the river Marne east of Paris, shown in this watercolour, is also the subject of one of the pencil drawings that Girtin made on the spot for his set of aquatints, Picturesque Views in Paris (TG1890). This is therefore the only example of Girtin returning to the sketches he made in France for the subject of a studio watercolour, and it is, in consequence, just one of a handful of works that can definitively be said to date from the artist’s last year. The watercolour follows the pencil drawing closely, reproducing details such as the boat on the river and the carriage to the right. Otherwise, the work seems to have been made independently of the print, and there is no question of it being produced as a guide for the aquatint artists, as was the case with the hand-coloured impression of the etching that Girtin also produced (TG1890a). The watercolour is thus larger, and the skyscape and the reflections in the water are quite different from those in either the colour study or the finished aquatint. Indeed, were it not for the title on the print, engraved by the artist’s brother, John Girtin (1773–1821) – ‘THE WATER MILL above the Bridge AT CHARENTON’ – there would be little or nothing in the watercolour to suggest that the scene is French. In general, Girtin was singularly unimpressed with the French countryside as a subject for watercolours, concurring with Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809), his guide on a series of excursions around the environs of Paris, that the nation’s landscape was ‘spotty, naked, having no hedges and trees … with few grand masses, ragged broken lines, little verdure, and a prevailing grey tone’ (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, p.492).1 Charenton was different, however, and, given that ‘the views round it are many of them excellent, for the landscape painter: water, foliage, buildings, and mills’, Girtin set about ‘delineating’ one of the last of these (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, p.490). The point about this scene, therefore, is that it made for a good subject in Girtin’s eyes, precisely because it resembled an English scene.

The work is of particular interest because of its extremely good condition, with the colours showing up brightly, almost jarringly so. It is impossible to say, however, whether this marked a change in Girtin’s practice following his trip to Paris, with the artist employing a more stable palette of colours that might withstand a reasonable exposure to light. Girtin’s last months after his return from France were dominated by the production of the Paris prints and by preparations for the display of his London panorama, and painting watercolours was a peripheral activity at this date, so there is no way of knowing whether the change in palette was anything more than a short-term reversion to an earlier way of working.

As with all of the subjects that were engraved after Girtin’s works, a number of copies of this composition exist, of varying quality. A signed version by François Louis Thomas Francia (1772–1839), one of the artist’s colleagues in the Sketching Society, is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (see figure 1), and the same collection is home to a larger, anonymous copy (see figure 2). The latter replicates both the scale and the palette of Girtin’s watercolour, and was presumably copied from this work rather than the print. Although it is rather lifeless, it is by no means the worst copy I have seen, and I cannot help but wonder whether it may not have been the work of Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer, and who was responsible for many of the better versions of Girtin’s compositions.


The Watermill above the Bridge at Charenton: Pencil Study for Plate Nineteen of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’



The Watermill above the Bridge at Charenton: Colour Study for Plate Nineteen of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  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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