Thomas Girtin was an English etcher and watercolorist. He was, at the same time, a rival and a very close friend to the distinguished painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. Thomas Girtin was very important in the rise of watercolor as a reputable and fashionable art form. Girtin was born in February 1775, in London. He was the son of a wealthy brushmaker.
As a child, he attended drawing classes under Thomas Malton, the Younger, and later was apprenticed to the topographical watercolorist Edward Dayes, who was certainly was not fond of his pupil’s talents and neither of him as a person, as he wrote dismissively about Girtin after his death. There are also rumors of clashes between master and pupil, although they ought to be confirmed.
During his youth, the artist became friends with the to-be famous English artist J.M.W. Turner, or William Turner, who also took classes with Malton. Both of them were also employed to color prints with watercolors.
Girtin first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1794, with 19 years of age. His topographical and architectural drawings and sketches were the main factors that established his reputation, as well as combining them with his skillful watercolor painting. He went on several sketching tours, visiting North Wales, the West Country and north of England.
By 1800, Girtin had already acquired a wide array of influential patrons, such as the art collector Sir George Beaumont and Lady Sutherland. He soon became houseguest at many of his patrons’ country houses, such as Mulgrave Castle and Harewood House. However, his health was quickly deteriorating.
In the next year, he spent almost six months in Paris, where he executed several watercolor landscapes, as well as sketches that he turned into engravings upon his return to London. Thomas Girtin’s last artwork was a large scale panorama of London called Eidometropolis, which had 108 feet in circumference and 18 feet high.
Thomas Girtin died in his painting room, in November 1802, at the surprisingly young age of 27 years old. The cause of death was documented as asthma, or “ossification of the heart”. After Girtin’s death, his fellow painter and lifelong friend William Turner stated: “Had Tom Girtin lived, I should have starved”, remarking his friends’ artistic prowess.