Girtin undertook annual tours in search of suitable subjects and the present watercolour dates from Girtin’s tour of 1798 to Wales. The diarist Joseph Farington, R.A. (1747-1821) noted a conversation with Girtin in which he stated that he had travelled with a man called Moss from Norwich, who advanced Girtin £20 so he could pay his expenses, (K. Garlick and A. Macintyre, The Diary of Joseph Farington, III, New Haven and London, 1979, p. 1090). Later commentators suggested that this may have been W.G. Moss, who made sketches for Britton’s Beauties of England and Wales (T. Girtin and D. Loshak, The Art of Thomas Girtin, London, 1954, p. 33). It seems likely that they journeyed into Wales from Bristol and travelled along the coast towards the rugged mountainous North. A sketch dated 16 August 1798 is taken at Corwen, the gateway to North Wales, and it seems probable that they would have travelled to Wroxeter, near Shrewsbury on their way back to London.
Early in his career Girtin executed finished watercolours based on sketches by the antiquarian James Moore and his work continued to reflect this early interest throughout his short career. At the beginning of the 19th Century, there was a ready market for topographical views and due to the ongoing wars with France, tourists and artists alike turned to the British Isles for inspiration. Greg Smith writes that 'Girtin’s watercolours were designed to appeal to a section of the tourist market that not only responded to the picturesque qualities of a view, but had complex emotional and moral responses to a ruined architectural subject; a reaction against the cult of the picturesque established by the Rev. William Gilpin'. Smith continues that 'Girtin’s often idiosyncratic watercolours were successful commodities, therefore, because they satisfied the demand from a type of tourist/patron for more than 'literal signification'’. (G. Smith, Thomas Girtin: The Art of Watercolour, London, 2002, p. 63). In the present watercolour Girtin has included a fragmentary view of the Roman city of Viroconium, perhaps signifying the fall of that great Empire, framing a view of the village of Wroxeter, stalwart and peaceful, surrounded by the rolling English countryside.
This watercolour has a distinguished provenance, having belonged to Guy Bellingham Smith (1865-1949), an obstetrician and gynaecologist who formed a notable collection of watercolours, English glass and Chinese and Japanese art. It later entered the collection of D. C. Baskett (1897-1962), who was a director of the distinguished art dealers, Colnaghi's, from 1939 and for many years ran the watercolour department. It was then in the collection of Iolo Williams (1890-1962) art historian, museums and art critic for The Times from 1936 onwards and author of the seminal work, Early English Watercolours, 1952. He presented 24 of his drawings to that British Museum and subsequently bequeathed 65 more to the institution on his death.