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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

A Distant View of a Castle, Said to Be Lowther in Westmorland

1800 - 1810

Primary Image: TG1577: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Distant View of a Castle, Said to Be Lowther in Westmorland, 1800–10, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on paper, 30 × 48.6 cm, 11 ¾ × 19 ⅛ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Distant View of a Castle, Said to Be Lowther in Westmorland
1800 - 1810
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on paper
30 × 48.6 cm, 11 ¾ × 19 ⅛ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Country House View; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
453 as 'Lowther Castle, Westmorland'; '1801 or 1802'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2013


Lord Ivor Charles Spencer-Churchill (1898–1956); James Leslie Wright (1862–1954) (lent to Birmingham, 1938); then by descent to Edward Percy Wright (d.1976); Christie's, 2 July 2013, lot 41 as 'Lowther Castle, Westmorland', unsold

Exhibition History

Independent Gallery, 1928, no.32; Birmingham, 1938, no.72; Birmingham, 1939, no.195; London, 1949, no.211; Arts Council, 1951, no.83; Amsterdam, 1965, no.60; Manchester, 1975, no.94 as ’Lowther Castle, Westmorland’


Paris, 1945, p.9; Mayne, 1949, p.106

About this Work

The traditional title of this work, which identifies the distant castle as Lowther in Westmorland, is highly unsatisfactory on a number of grounds (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.196). As Tom Girtin (1913–94) noted, Lowther Castle was not built by the time of Girtin’s death (having been constructed between 1806 and 1814), and in any case the building is not symmetrical enough to be confused with the form of the structure shown here, and nor does it resemble the earlier Lowther Hall. Added to this, we now know that Girtin did not visit the area, so that whilst earlier authors, such as Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak, consistently stated that the watercolour was one of the outcomes of a late visit by the artist to the Lake District, it is clear that this work either was copied from a secondary source or shows a different and unidentified building elsewhere in the country. In fact, the landscape depicted here does resemble the valley of the Tweed in the Scottish Borders, as depicted by Girtin in the distant view of Melrose Abbey (TG1721), which dates from after the artist’s second trip to the area in 1800. However, no castle resembling this structure is to be found in the area, or indeed in the northern counties of England, and I am left wondering whether the landscape might not have been observed in the Tweed Valley whilst the castle ruins were improvised. 

The other possibility to be considered is whether the work might not actually be by Girtin. The fact that the watercolour is extremely faded complicates the issue, with the sky having been compromised, whilst the greens in the landscape have changed to a set of earth tones, with the overall effect that the spatial integrity of the scene is spoilt, and the light effect has lost its original drama. Something similar has occurred in other later river views by Girtin, including the famous A View on the River Wharfe (TG1674), but that work has retained much of its stark grandeur, and there is also something about the gauche handling of the foreground here that is troubling. The bold form of the bank in the foreground is a typical Girtin feature, but here it seems designed to hide the fact that the river cannot possibly meet the water beyond without the aid of a waterfall and an impossibly sharp bend. Nonetheless, on balance, I think that the positive elements of the composition might just outweigh the negatives, but I doubt whether this is quite enough to sustain an attribution to Girtin. 

Brougham Castle, Cumbria

Another Cumbrian view, which was formerly attributed to Girtin, may help with the problem (see figure 1). Girtin certainly did not visit Brougham, and this view of the castle from near the junction of the rivers Eamont and Lowther looks to be later in date, rather than being made after the sketch of an amateur artist such as James Moore (1762–99) who visited the location in October 1785. The watercolour has not been seen since being sold in New York in 1923 (Exhibitions: Anderson Galleries, New York, 15 November 1923, lot 73). However, as far as can be told from a poor black and white photo, it could possibly be by Girtin’s follower and friend through the Sketching Society, George Samuel (active 1785–1823). Moreover, it is also possible that he too was responsible for the Lowther view and that it could therefore date from during the building of the castle around 1810.

1800 - 1801

The Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey in the Distance


1800 - 1801

A View on the River Wharfe


by Greg Smith

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