(b London, Feb 18, 1775; d London, Nov 9, 1802).
English painter, draughtsman and printmaker. With his rival, J. M. W. Turner, he extended the technical possibilities of watercolour and in doing so demonstrated that watercolours could have the visual impact and emotional range of oils. Although close in style throughout the 1790s, by 1800 Turner and Girtin were beginning to diverge: whereas the former dissolved forms to express his idea of Nature in a state of flux, the latter sought out a landscape’s underlying patterns to convey his awe of Nature’s permanence as well as its grandeur. Girtin’s reduction of landscape to simple and monumental forms, his panoramic compositions, his bold palette of browns and blues, and his sensitivity to natural effects such as cloud formations, were to influence watercolour painters as diverse as John Varley, Cornelius Varley, Peter De Wint and John Sell Cotman.
Girtin was the son of a brushmaker of Huguenot descent. In 1788 he was apprenticed to the topographical watercolour painter ...