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Thomas Girtin: The Forgotten Painter

By Oscar Zarate

Hardback, 392 pp, $39.99

Part historical narrative, part modern fiction, the book consists of two interlinked stories: the first focuses on the 18th-century painter Thomas Girtin and his relationship with his friend and rival J.M.W. Turner; the second tells the tale of three amateur artists in the present day, united by a shared interest in Girtin’s art.

Using this dual narrative to draw parallels between two eras of rapid technological advancement and socio-political turbulence, Oscar Zarate’s long-awaited new graphic novel restores to modern eyes this unjustly forgotten figure, whose work has been almost entirely ignored despite his huge influence in British painting.

At the time of death, aged just 27, Girtin had already established himself as a pioneer and a master: his expressionist approach was a significant turning point in the British watercolour tradition. But the brevity of his career, coupled with his chosen medium (compared to oils, watercolours were a humbler and less easily exhibited form) meant that his work came to be overshadowed by that of Turner. As Turner himself famously remarked, “If Tom had lived, I should have starved.” 

Oscar Zarate

Oscar Zarate is an award-winning graphic novelist. His books include collaborations with Alan Moore (A Small Killing) and Alexei Sayle (Geoffrey the Tube Train and the Fat Comedian). He was the editor of It's Dark in London, and he wrote and illustrated The Park. He collaborated with Richard Appignanesi on Dr Faustus, Hysteria, Introducing Freud and Introducing Existentialism. Born in Argentina, it was over fifty years ago that Oscar decided to visit London, where he has lived and worked ever since.


"I think it’s a masterpiece. A miraculous and brilliant work of art and scholarship, and it reads with the pace of a thriller too."
— Steve Bell
"The result is deeply satisfying and, at moments, spectacular. If this is a story about the power of art and the role it can play in enriching everyday lives, it’s also a pretty nimble biography – and if it leaves you wanting to know more, you’ll find your starting point here, too."
— The Guardian
"Thomas Girtin: The Forgotten Painter is Oscar Zarate’s best work yet... a heartfelt tribute to both friendship and Girtin’s art."
— James Smart (The Guardian)