Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Llanthony Abbey’ 1794
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Llanthony Abbey 1794

Girtin’s public debut was made at Somerset House, the home of London’s Royal Academy, in 1794. He exhibited a watercolour of Ely Cathedral, but this work had to compete with over two hundred other watercolours, drawings and miniatures in the Antique Room at the Academy. The first part of room 1 introduces some of the watercolour artists who were Girtin’s rivals for public attention. One of these was J.M.W. Turner, whose view of Llanthony Abbey, Monmouthshire (no.16) epitomised the growing emphasis in watercolour art on the setting and weather effects rather than the architectural subject.

Learning the Art of Watercolours
The second half of room 1 contains examples of Girtin’s earliest work, from the time of his apprenticeship to Edward Dayes, to his earliest views of Britain’s architectural heritage for antiquarian patrons. Views such as The Interior of Tintern Abbey Looking Towards the West Window from the Choir (no.31) show Girtin still working in his master’s style, but in the summer of 1794 he went on his first sketching tour, and received a series of commissions for works on a larger scale than before, including the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire (no.38).