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Works Thomas Girtin

A Distant View of Knaresborough, from the South East


Primary Image: TG1669: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Distant View of Knaresborough, from the South East, 1801, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper, 65.9 × 98.5 cm, 26 × 38 ¾ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1928.7).

Photo courtesy of The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Photo by Michael Pollard (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Distant View of Knaresborough, from the South East
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper
65.9 × 98.5 cm, 26 × 38 ¾ in

‘Girtin 1801’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Large Framed Work; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
436 as 'Harewood Castle and Park'; '1801. (possibly started 1798).'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and February 2020


Edward Lascelles (1764–1814); then by descent to Henry Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824–92); his sale, possibly Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 42 as 'View in Wales - grand effect of storm'; bought by 'Palser', 15 gns; J. Palser & Sons as 'Harewood Castle'; Edward Cohen (1817–86) (lent to London, 1875); then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); J. Palser & Sons; bought by the Independant Gallery, London, 14 March 1927; bought from them with the help of Arthur Edward Anderson (c.1871–1938), 1928

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.94 as ’Harewood Castle’; London, 1877, no.303 or no.312; Independent Gallery, 1928, no.33 as ’Extensive Landscape with Knaresborough Castle in the Distance’; London, 1934b, no.873 as ’Knaresborough’; Bucharest, 1935, no.140; Leeds, 1937, no.26; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.77 as ’Harewood Castle and Park’; Manchester, 1956, no.8; London, 1962c, no.375; Manchester, 1975, no.85 as ’A distant view of Knaresborough from the south east’; Nottingham, 1988, no.35; Manchester, 1993, no.99


Binyon, 1933, p.107; Mayne, 1949, p.101; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.78–79; Smith, 1982, p.54; Hill, 1995, p.62; Nugent, 2003, p.133

About this Work

This distant view of Knaresborough Castle, from a point overlooking the valley of the river Nidd, was for a long time known as ‘Harewood Castle and Park’. This no doubt stemmed from the fact that it formed part of a group of four monumental watercolours, each on paper, measuring roughly 25 ¾ × 38 ½  in (62.7 × 97.8 cm), that were commissioned for the combined price of eighty guineas by Edward Lascelles (1764–1814). The group also includes two views of Lascelles’ home, the nearby Harewood House, seen from the south east and south west respectively (TG1548 and TG1547), together with another local scene, Plumpton Rocks, on an estate that was also owned by the family (TG1553). In the same letter that records the price of the commission (dated 27 June 1801), Lascelles discussed arrangements for framing the group, so that, uniquely, we can be sure that this group of watercolours was designed from the outset to be displayed on the wall (Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.120). A conservation report on the watercolour has revealed how Girtin mounted the paper onto a secondary support that was then attached to a stretcher, just like an oil painting, and traces of colour around the edges show that the artist finished the work in that state, before it was finally close-framed and then glazed to protect its surface (Hill, 1995, p.62). Unfortunately, the original frame seems to have been lost when the work left the Harewood collection, following a sale in 1858 that was said to have been prompted by the significant fading that had already affected the appearance of Girtin’s watercolours (Hill, 1995, pp.30 and 55; Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 May 1858). The spectacular loss of the greys in the sky and the muting of the fresh greens of the vegetation were no doubt the result of the work having been on continuous display for fifty years, and this was almost certainly in Lascelles’ house in Hanover Square, London. An inventory dating from around 1814, combined with Lascelles’ letter to Girtin, makes it clear that the four works were designed specifically for the London townhouse, though the group was spit up and shown in different rooms (Hill, 1995, pp.57–8). 

Alone of the group of large watercolours produced for Lascelles, this work is signed and dated, ‘1801’. Only one of the sketches for the group of watercolours appears to have survived (TG1552). However, Girtin is documented as having stayed at Harewood in August 1800 and what appears to be an on-the-spot sketch, The River Nidd between Knaresborough and Wetherby (TG1629), is dated 1800, so it is safe to assume that the artist gathered material for his commission in that summer during a stay with Lascelles. Girtin’s early biographers noted that the artist had a room put aside for him to work at Harewood, but it is unlikely that he painted such large watercolours in Yorkshire and the date added to this work confirms the idea that they were produced in his London studio (Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.96). Lascelles does not appear to have been entirely satisfied by the artist’s efforts, however, as in the same letter that he agreed their payment he also asked if the artist had ‘made the alterations in the Drawings of this place which I wish’d you to do’, referring presumably to the views of Harewood House (Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.120). The element of control that Lascelles tried to exercise is at odds with the fact that the subject of this work seems to have been confused even during the artist’s life, with the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) referring to it as ‘Harewood Castle’ as early as August 1801 (Farington, Diary, 29 August 1801). Both the composition of the view, with the ruined castle in the same central prominent position, and the similar dramatic sky, are calculated to draw comparisons with the view of Harewood House from the south east, and it is not surprising that the ruins were confused with those of Harewood Castle, which is nearby on the estate. The confusion highlights a more insidious tendency amongst patrons: commissioning a portrait of another place was tantamount to staking a claim to proprietorial rights.

(?) 1801

Harewood House, from the South East


(?) 1801

Harewood House, from the South West


1800 - 1801

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough


(?) 1800

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough



The River Nidd between Knaresborough and Wetherby


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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