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Summary Article: Girtin, Thomas
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

English landscape painter, one of the most important watercolourists of the 18th century. His work is characterized by broad washes of strong colour and bold compositions, for example The White House at Chelsea (1800; Tate Gallery, London). He was a friend of J M W Turner.

After desultory early training, he spent a fruitful period in company with the young J M W Turner, making copies from J R Cozens and also copying and studying the drawings of Canaletto. By 1796 he had begun to develop a personal style, replacing tinted topographical drawing by watercolour paintings in which free brushwork, strength of tone, and broadly handled masses brought a new vigour into the art, and indeed suggested new possibilities for landscape in either watercolour or oil.

In addition to scenes of the English countryside, such as View on the Wharfe, he created some excellent views of Paris (1801–02) which were subsequently made into soft-ground etchings, and on his return from France worked on a vast panorama of London (the Eidometropolis). Six sketches for this work are preserved in the British Museum. Though he died of tuberculosis at the age of 27, he made an important contribution of the development of English watercolour painting.

Turner set himself to rival Girtin in this development of watercolour, and John Constable, seeing examples of Girtin's work in the painter George Beaumont's (1753–1827) collection, was at once impressed by the technical suggestion they offered.

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