Thomas Girtin is probably a name most of us have never heard before. Yet, for a time he was a giant in the world of art in Britain and was vastly influential in the direction of art there for the next century after his death in 1802. A lot to say for a young man who died at the age of 27.
He was born in the same year as JMW Turner, the British giant whose worked revolutionized watercolor and served as a leading edge for the work of the later Impressionists. The two were good friends, having worked together as teens, and rivals and Turner later said “Had Tom Girtin lived I should have starved”. When I think of the spectacular work of Turner, especially some it done over 40 years after the death of Girtin, and see where Girtin was in his work when he died, I am sad to think what the world was deprived in not seeing what he might have accomplished as he matured. Turner’s work certainly evolved and Girtin displayed a drive for greatness that would have certainly brought incredible things.
For example, in 1802, just before his death, he created and displayed a painting called the Eidometropolis, a huge panorama of 1800 London that measured 18′ tall by 108′ long. The prodigious effort brought great acclaim, both for its heroic scale and the beauty of the work. Sadly, the painting no longer exists except for many sketches which were created in the making of it, such as the one shown here. Girtin died soon after from an asthma attack.
So, in the centuries since, the name of Thomas Girtin never really grew to the stature that it might have reached had he lived. Perhaps his friendly rivalry with Turner might have spurred on amazing things from him and even more incredible work from Turner. We will never know, of course. It’s just hard to not speculate when you see such obvious talent, even genius, ended at such an early point.