Thomas Girtin

(1775—1802) watercolour painter

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(b London, 18 Feb. 1775; d London, 9 Nov. 1802).

English painter and printmaker, one of the supreme masters of the watercolour landscape. His earlier works were tinted drawings in the 18th-century topographical tradition, but by the end of his short life he had developed a technique that revolutionized watercolour painting. He used strong colour in broad washes, influenced to some extent by J. R. Cozens, but going beyond him in the boldness of his compositions, the grandeur with which he created effects of space, and the power with which he suggested mood. His work stands at the beginning of the classic English tradition of watercolour painting, freed from its dependence on line drawing, and Turner acknowledged his friend's greatness with the words ‘If Tom Girtin had lived, I should have starved.’ Girtin made tours in various parts of Britain, and spent six months in Paris in 1801–2, making a series of etchings of the city that were posthumously published in 1803. In 1802 he exhibited an enormous panorama of London, painted in oils, the Eidometropolis; this is no longer extant, but sketches for it survive. He died of tuberculosis.

Subjects: Art.

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