The present watercolour is a typical Picturesque view of a ruined castle with historic association situated on the brow of a steep hill above the Gatcombe Brook. The castle was built by Ralph de Pomeroy, who accompanied William the Conqueror on his invasion of England in 1066. His descendant the Duke of Somerset (1506-52), brother of Henry VIII's wife Jane Seymour, built a Tudor house within the walls. Damaged in the Civil War, the house was abandoned in the mid 17th Century.
The appeal of the site at the end of the 18th Century is typified by contemporary descriptions. William George Maton wrote of the associations of its situation, 'shut within its beautiful walls' and Henry Skrine decided how the 'deep gloom of the overhanging wood, which encircles several majestic towers clothed with ivy... inspires that kind of awful dignity which seems suited to the most romantic period of our ancient history' (Maton, Observations on the Western Counties of England, Salisbury, 1797, and Skrine, A General Account of all the Rivers of Note in Great Britain, London, 1801, both quoted in Smith, (loc. cit.). Greg Smith suggests that Girtin was influenced in this work by Richard Wilson and in particular by his Solitude, an influence he was happy to acknowledge, stressing the broken tree and the slumped, seated figure.
Like lot 272, this may be one of the subjects from the Devon and Dorset tour that Girtin exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798, the year after his 1797 West Country visit; Smith dates this watercolour to circa 1798 (loc. cit.). There are two slightly smaller versions, each about 10 x 13½ in.; the first, in the Yale Center for British Art, is probably a copy of that in the Bacon Collection; in this the separate tower on the left is concealed by trees, the seated figure is looking out at the spectator and the tree on the extreme right is smaller (see T. Girtin and D. Loshak, The Art of Thomas Girtin, London, 1954, pp. 166-7, nos. 242 i and ii).