A Book of British Etching: From Francis Barlow to Francis Seymour Haden

By Walter Shaw Sparrow | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
GIRTIN AND TURNER, CROME AND COTMAN, WITH A GLANCE AT THE NORWICH SCHOOL

I

THEY were born in London the same year, Girtin and Turner, and it happened to be the year when first blood was shed in America by George III's troops, at Lexington, April 19, 1775. Two months earlier, February 18, Girtin was born at Southwark; and two months later, April 23, Turner came into the world at 26 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. In the year of Girtin's premature death, 1802, the Peace of Amiens interrupted for a few months the long uncertain grapple against Napoleon. In the year and month of Turner's death, December, 1851, the third Napoleon got himself elected "President for life" of the French Republic. To connect artists with the general human drama is to remind ourselves that genius has been most active during periods of tidal strife in the affairs of nations.

Girtin's origin has been traced back to a Huguenot family named Guertin, which had its home on the Isle of France till the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes drove its members to England. France, then, has a share in Girtin's fame--a share like that which England has in the genius of Montaigne, whose English ancestry is mentioned with pride by Montaigne himself.1

Though Girtin's life was very brief, only twenty-seven years and a few months, he did more than any of his fellows for the art of English water-colour, in so far as innovating breadth was concerned. There was

____________________
1
See his Essay on Glory. "Of two names that I have, one is common to all my race. My ancestors were formerly surnamed Eyquem, a name wherein a family well known in England is at this day concerned." Eyquem we may take to be the old Norman way of spelling Egham, or Ockham, Oakham, or Higham.

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