Thomas Girtin was born on February 18, 1775 in Southwark London and was British artist who at the turn of the 19th century firmly established the aesthetic autonomy of watercolour as an art by employing its transparent washes to evoke a new sense of atmospheric space. Behind Thomas Gainsborough, William Turner and John Constable he is the least remembered of the four but he is just as important in the artistic landscape of painters from the late 18th early 19th century.Born the son of a well-to-do brushmaker of Huguenot descent,his father died while Thomas was a child, his mother then married a Mr Vaughan, a pattern-draughtsman. While still boys, Girtin and his friend J.M.W. Turner were employed to wash in skies for architectural drawings and in colouring prints for a printseller. Girtin had learnt drawing as a boy (attending classes with Thomas Malton), and was apprenticed to Edward Dayes (1763–1804), a topographical water-colourist.He is believed to have served out his seven-year term, although there are unconfirmed reports of clashes between master and apprentice, and even that Dayes had Girtin imprisoned as a refractory apprentice.
Girtin made copies and sketches from the works of a number of artists, and in 1794 he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy. He went on numerous sketching tours, chiefly in the north of England, and founded a sketching club for young artists. During 1801–02 he visited Paris and produced a series of etchings of that city. His gigantic panorama of London, the Eidometropolis, was exhibited in 1802, shortly before his premature death.
Girtin’s earlier landscapes are in the 18th-century topographical manner, but in his last years he evolved a bold, spacious, and Romantic style—in spirit akin to the contemporary poetry of William Wordsworth—that greatly influenced English landscape painting. Girtin’s increasing power and consummate mastery of the art of watercolour are evident in such late works as The White House, Chelsea (1800).
The first intimation of Girtin’s true artistic stature occurs during the period 1796-1801, when the young artist made a series of sketching tours through the North and West of England. After making pencil studies on the spot, Girtin returned to his studio to lay in a series of washes, working across the drawing and progressing from light to dark. In the best of these, such as his view of Chalfont Lodge, Buckinghamshire, painted around 1800, the colours are fresh, clean and bright. Unfortunately, Girtin had a propensity for using colours made from vegetable dyes, so his blues, purples and yellows tended to fade when exposed to light.
Girtin died in his painting room on November 9th 1802 at the young age of 27 the cause was reported as asthma or “ossification of the heart.” Girtin left behind a body of work that has made him one of the best-loved artists of the British school.