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Works Thomas Girtin

A Close View of Harewood House, from the South East

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1546: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Close View of Harewood House, from the South East, 1799–1800, graphite on wove paper, 19.4 × 36.2 cm, 7 ⅝ × 14 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1192).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Close View of Harewood House, from the South East
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
19.4 × 36.2 cm, 7 ⅝ × 14 ¼ in

‘Harewood’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Country House View; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
268 as 'Harewood House'; '1798'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1953; bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), £12; Tom Girtin (1913–94); bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

New Haven, 1979, no.74; New Haven, 1986a, no.63 as ’c.1798’; Harewood, 1999, no.12 as c.1797


Celeste, 2020, p.87

About this Work

It is not known when Girtin drew this detailed architectural study of the southern facade of Harewood House in Yorkshire, but it is generally assumed to have been executed on the artist’s first visit to the home of his great patron Edward Lascelles (1764–1814). The eldest son of the immensely rich 1st Earl of Harewood (1740–1820), Lascelles commissioned as many as nineteen watercolours from Girtin and there are records of payments to the artist, beginning in February 1798, amounting to a total of over £195, though this drawing never seems to have been part of the collection at Harewood. David Hill thought that Girtin’s first visit to Harewood took place as early as the summer of 1797, and he dated this drawing to then, when he thought that the artist may have joined his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (Hill, 1999, p.22). Susan Morris, and also Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak in their catalogue of the artist’s watercolours, suggests a date of 1798, and the common consensus is that the ‘careful manner’ of the drawing, noted by Hill, is evidence of an early visit (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.170; Morris, 1986, p.43; Hill, 1999, pp.21–23). I think there are two interrelated problems here. The first, stemming no doubt from the general paucity of biographical information about Girtin, is that details such as the family tradition that he had a room set aside for him to work in the great house, together with a later reference to Lascelles favouring Girtin over Turner, have encouraged writers to overemphasise the importance of the Harewood connection (Hill, 1999, pp.21–23). Girtin’s stay at Harewood in 1800 is documented, and there is strong circumstantial evidence for an extended visit in 1799 as well, but beyond that I suspect the artist followed his favoured option of travelling as little as possible and that some of what has been written on the subject, culminating in Matthew Plampin’s entertaining novel featuring Turner and Girtin, Will & Tom, contains more speculation than is warranted by the facts (Plampin, 2015). 

Harewood House from the South East

The second problem with an early dating of both this drawing and Girtin’s first trip to Harewood is that it is based on a misreading of its function. The artist’s views of country houses, without exception, feature a landscape setting, while the close viewpoint and the oblique angle adopted here would make it useless as a study for a commission, and there is in any case way too much detail for such a purpose. A comparison with a view by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748–1804) of the same facade at Harewood is particularly instructive in this case (see figure 1). Malton’s similar view, dating from twenty years earlier, shows how much Girtin and Turner had moved on in their depictions of the country house in general and Harewood in particular (see TG1548 and TG1548 figure 1), and it also points to the fact that this drawing is much more of an exercise in architectural perspective of the sort that Malton himself may have set for his pupils. The careful detailing of every entablature, capital and pediment by unbroken and unambiguous lines, with more than a hint that some are ruled, is no preparation for a Girtin watercolour. Encouraged by the fact that some of the payments to the artist included fees for ‘Lessons’, I suggest that the drawing was made later than hitherto proposed and might even have been executed as a lesson in architectural drawing for Lascelles (Hill, 1995, p.29).

(?) 1801

Harewood House, from the South East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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