Young Thomas Girtin’s painter friend was the famous artist J.M.W. Turner. As teenagers both men had been employed to color prints with watercolor paints. While Turner lived to be over seventy-five years of age, Girtin died of consumption at 27. Turner would recall in his later years: “Had Tom Girtin lived I should have starved.” No small praise. During his short life, Girtin gained a major reputation as a watercolor artist and played an important role in establishing English Romantic watercolor paintings as an art form. As one biographer noted, “While Girtin lived, Turner followed.” One can only imagine how fascinated young and romantically minded Catherine Morland would have been had she seen Girtin’s painting of the priory ruins.
Three years before his death, Girtin had acquired important patrons who collected his works. Thankfully the young artist had been prolific and his influence was not soon forgotten. In 1842, while sketching high in the Swiss Alps, a mature Turner, reminded of a unique effect of light in darkness, penciled a brief note in the margin of his drawing: “Girtin’s White House.”
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