- Museum number
Portrait of Thomas Girtin; head and shoulders in profile to left. 1790
Graphite, with watercolour
- Production date
Height: 253 millimetres
Width: 192 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The following text is from S. Lloyd and K. Sloan, 'The Intimate Portrait' (exh. SNPG & BM, 2008-9), cat. no. 97:
In 1793, the architect George Dance began during his leisure time to draw a series of profiles of Academicians and 'distinguished Characters' of the day, producing more than 200 over the next seventeen years. A large number of them are now in the collections of the NPG, RA and BM. In his Diary Joseph Farington recorded a number of the sittings and from 1802 William Daniell began to publish the portraits as soft-ground etchings. (For further information on the series see S. Lloyd and K. Sloan, p. 32-3). The first to be drawn were mainly fellow artists, including Farington, Cosway, Fuseli, Barry and the sculptor Thomas Banks. The last three listed were known to be sympathetic to the French revolution in its early years, and in fact Banks described by Farington as a 'violent Democrat', was brought before the Privy Council on suspicion of high treason in 1794.
This was the year after Dance drew Banks's portrait where he is shown with powdered hair tied in a long queue with a ribbon at the back. In 1794, Banks witnessed William Godwin and the playwright and radical Thomas Holcroft through the 'Treason Trials' he himself had narrowly escaped and began to wear his hair 'cropped' (short and unpowdered) like Charles Fox and the Duke of Bedford. As the decade progressed, particularly after the 'Gagging Acts' of late 1795, other artists and poets such as William Wordsworth followed suit, including Thomas Girtin who is here shown possessing a 'Brutus head/And curls not bigger than a bead' (Abbé Ange Denis Macquin, to James Moore, cited in Girtin 1954, p. 112), an allusion to Roman republican busts.
Girtin's political sympathies did not noticeably affect his patronage and he was generally known as being good-natured. His hair was longer again when Opie painted his portrait around 1800 (NPG). But he does not appear to have abandoned his democratic sympathies: when he was in Paris, Thomas Holcroft accompanied Girtin on a three-day excursion in the countryside around Paris, shortly before Girtin died back in London in November 1802. He is not shown wearing a crop in Onslow Ford's bust of Girtin on the façade of the Royal Society of Painters in Water colours in Piccadilly which is probably based on a death mask now lost.
SELECTED LITERATURE: LB8; T. Girtin and D. Loshak, ‘Art of Thomas Girtin’, 1954, pp. 112, 220; D. Bindman, ‘Shadow of the Guillotine’, London 1989, p. 66, no. 171; J. Ingamells, ‘NPG: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790’, 2004; S Morris, 'Thomas Girtin', Oxford DNB
Dance's drawing of Girtin was etched by William Daniell, 2 April 1814, and published in his 'A Collection of Seventy-two Portraits of Eminent Characters Sketched from Life since the Year 1793', 1808-1814, vol.2.
An impression of the etching without letters is in the Department, register no. 1925,0511.26.140, in a bound volume of portraits after Dance kept at 209*.b.6.
There are other portraits of Girtin in the collection, by himself and by Henry Edridge. A miniature portrait of Girtin by Henry Edridge was sold at Sotheby's 14 July 2010 (lot 69).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1974 Jul-Dec, BM, Portrait Drawings, no.196
1989 May-Sep, BM, Shadow of the Guillotine: Britain and French Revolution, no.171
1990 Jan-Mar, Manchester, Whitworth AG, Britain/French Revolution, no.135
1990 Jun-Sep, Vizille, Mus/Rev Francaise, Britain/French Revolution, no.135
2008/9 Oct-Jan, Edinburgh, SNPG, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 97
2009 Mar-May, London, BM, Room 90, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 97
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number