Holy Island is dramatically situated on the northeast coast of England and is reached at low tide by a track over the sand. This watercolor was likely based on sketches Girtin made during his tour to Scotland and northern England in the summer and early fall of 1796, and probably dates from 1797, when he exhibited ten subjects from the tour at the Royal Academy. Much influenced by J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851) and by John Robert Cozens (1752–1797), Girtin imparted a visionary grandeur to the scene. The massive basalt rock, rising above the shore and topped by a sixteenth-century castle, becomes the focus of the composition, overshadowing tiny human figures in the foreground. Relegated to the distant left background are the harbor, fishing village, and church of Saint Mary, with its extensive ruins of a priory and monastery.
Inscription: Inscribed on recto at lower center in pen and brown ink: "Girtin" Inscribed on verso at left in pen and reddish-brown ink: "Mackenzie"
Hopkins (British, late 19th–early 20th century); Vendor: Palser [J. Palser & Sons or The Palser Gallery]
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," July 29, 1996–October 21, 1996.
Tate Britain. "Turner and the Masters," September 23, 2009–January 24, 2010.
Tate Britain, London. "Turner and the Masters," September 23, 2009–January 31, 2010.
Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. "Turner and the Masters," February 22, 2010–May 24, 2010.
Museo Nacional del Prado. "Turner and the Masters," June 22, 2010–September 19, 2010.
Samuel Redgrave, Richard Redgrave A Century of Painters of the English School. 1866, pp. 393-94, 397.
Roger Eliot Fry "Drawings." in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 2, no. 12, December 1907, pp. 201-202.
Thomas Girtin, David Loshak The Art of Thomas Girtin. London, 1954, cat. no. 185, fig. no. 32, pp. 62-63, 159, ill.
Frederick J. Cummings, Robert Rosenblum, Allen Staley Romantic Art in Britain, Paintings and Drawings 1760-1860. Ex. cat: January 9 to February 18, 1968 (Detroit), March 14 to April 21, 1968 (Philadelphia). Detroit Institute of Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1968, cat. no. 113, pp. 186-87, ill.
Isabel Combs Steube Through English Eyes: The Geography of Romanticism in British Watercolors, 1760-1860 Ex. pamphlet. The Katonah Gallery, Sept. 16–Oct. 28, 1979, cat. no. 12, pp. 11, 18, ill.
Susan Morris Thomas Girtin, 1775–1802. Ex. cat. Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, 1986, pp. 13, 16.
Katharine Baetjer, Michael Rosenthal, Kathleen Nicholson, Stephen Daniels, Timothy J. Standring Glorious Nature: British Landscape Painting 1750-1850 Ex. cat., December 11, 1993-February 6, 1994. Denver Art Museum, Hudson Hills Press, New York, 1993, cat. no. 46, p. 172, ill.
Greg Smith , et al. Thomas Girtin: The Art of Watercolor. Exh. cat. Tate Britain, London, 2002, fig. no. 1, pp. 13, 82, 123, ill.
Turner and the Masters. Exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, September 23, 2009-January 31, 2010, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, February 22-May 24, 2010, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, June 22-September 19, 2010. David H. Solkin, London, 2009, cat. no. 17, ill.