A selection of twenty of the most picturesque views in Paris, and its environs : drawn and etched in the year 1802 / by the late Thomas Girtin; being the only etchings of that ... artist: and aquatinted in exact imitation of the original drawings, in the collection of the Rt. Honble. the Earl of Essex.
Oblong folio (16 6/8 x 24 6/8 inches). Engraved title-page and 20 fine etched aquatints by F. C. Lewis, J. B. Harraden, W. Pickett and J.C. Stadler after Thomas Girtin, printed in bistre, dated December 16th, 1802 - April 4th, 1803, on paper watermarked J. Whatman 1801 and E. & P., 1801 (one or two marginal stains). 19th-century half maroon morocco, marbled paper boards, gilt (extremities scuffed).
Girtin was a young but accomplished and well-regarded artist whose work contains a sense of drama and a mastery of light. Between 1794 and 1797 Girtin worked with the celebrated artist J. M. W. Turner to copy drawings by John Robert Cozens in the possession of Dr Thomas Monro, the well-known specialist in mental illness, at Adelphi Terrace. After several successful artistic tours of the north of England, and susceptible to asthma, Girtin went abroad to recover: "Girtin went to Paris, which was suddenly accessible to English visitors after the signing of the preliminaries of the peace of Amiens. Girtin left his wife, who was eight months pregnant (their son Thomas Calvert Girtin was born on 10 December), and journeyed to Paris, which, in November, seems an odd place for an asthmatic to visit. It was business—and perhaps a tangled emotional life—that sent Girtin abroad. Two days after he was supposed to have departed for the Dover packet, he was met by Mr Jackson, father-in-law of John, Girtin's engraver brother, in London. Girtin sheepishly explained that he had ‘only returned to take a farewell of a Lady who he had forgotten to take leave of at the time of his departure’ (Jackson quoted by the Girtin collector Chambers Hall whom J. J. Jenkins interviewed on 12 July 1852, Royal Watercolour Society, MS RWS J 39/14).
"Girtin probably went to Paris to explore the feasibility of exhibiting his panorama of London there, and perhaps of making sketches for a panorama of Paris. He had begun preparatory pen-and-ink and watercolour sketches for the panorama of London, taken from the British Plate Glass Manufactory at the south end of Blackfriars Bridge, in 1800–01. The scheme for exhibiting the London panorama in Paris proved unrealistic: ‘I think the panorama here does not answer’, Girtin wrote to his brother John on 9 April 1802, about a fortnight before he left the city (T. Girtin to J. Girtin, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester).
"Girtin filled his five and a half months in Paris making highly sophisticated watercolours such as La rue St Denis (1802; priv. coll.), an atmospheric evocation of urban architecture. It was used as the design for a backdrop for a Thomas Dibdin pantomime back in London. Girtin ‘coloured on the spot’ (T. Girtin to J. Girtin, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester) from hackney coaches; despite the huge number of English visitors who flocked to Paris during the peace, artists could still be regarded as spies.
"The main fruits of Girtin's Paris tour were the pencil sketches (BM) for Twenty Views in Paris and its Environs [as here], panoramic views of sombre power etched in softground by Girtin on his return to London (June–October), aquatinted by specialists, and published as a set after Girtin's death by his brother in 1803. The playwright and former treason trial radical Thomas Holcroft accompanied Girtin on a three-day excursion in the countryside around Paris, visiting Marly, Charenton, and Versailles. Holcroft gives a unique glimpse of Girtin's artistic philosophy and practice: he recorded that the artist drew with immense sureness and speed, looking for a panoramic prospect, objects which formed masses, and water to light up a composition (Holcroft, 488–98)" (Susan Morris for DNB).