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Works Thomas Girtin

A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1053: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 8.9 × 14 cm, 3 ½ × 5 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
8.9 × 14 cm, 3 ½ × 5 ½ in

‘Rippon Minster York / Girtin’ on the back

Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell (TG1054)
A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell (TG1665)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Spink & Son Ltd, London; Sotheby’s, 8 July 1982, lot 71 as 'Ripon Minster from the River Skell, Yorkshire', £990

About this Work

This distant view of Ripon Minster from the river Skell bears at least some of the marks of being a sketch coloured on the spot, being small in scale and evidently created with great dispatch, and there is also some evidence in the sky of the artist having lost control over some of his washes – always a potent sign of a work being created away from the more controlled studio environment. However, compared to sketches from the 1796 northern tour that were undoubtedly worked from nature, including the monochrome study of Lindisfarne Priory (TG1105) and the more colourful view of Warkworth Hermitage (TG1095), this feels more carefully studied and complete. It is a close call indeed, but on balance I suspect that this work was fabricated in the studio on Girtin’s return from his Yorkshire visit in 1796 in order to meet the market for a small sketch-like commodity suited to the portfolios of his earliest patrons and collectors. The crucial comparison here is with the view of Pegwell Bay (TG0372), which is dated 1796 but which could not have been coloured on the spot as Girtin did not travel to the Kent coast in that year, or in all probability ever. The treatment of the sky and the reflections in the water in both works may suggest a speedy production, but the uniform way that the watercolours are finished, combined with the manner in which cattle in one, and figures in the other, have been carefully placed within the composition, suggests the deliberation associated with the studio work. The dated watercolour of Pegwell Bay, a subject that Girtin could not have coloured on the spot in 1796, helps us to identify a significant group of small drawings that, though they purport to have been worked from nature, must have been derived from sketches made in the field in that year. Works such as this view of Ripon, together with Bothal Castle (TG1089) and Seaton Sluice (TG1088), therefore have a claim to being the first examples of a new kind of commodity, a pseudo-sketch, which, I suggest, was pioneered by Girtin.

With no inscription or date to help, it is very difficult if not impossible to prove that a watercolour was coloured on the spot, and indeed that is the point; a skilful practitioner can blur the distinctions between a studio work and a sketch at will. In the case of this view of Ripon Minster, seen from the river Skell to the south east, there is the further complicating factor that we are not entirely sure that the artist visited Ripon in 1796. There is another sketch-like depiction of exactly the same view that appears to be from roughly the same time as this small watercolour (TG1054), but the other views of the town each date from 1800 (TG1659 and TG1660) or 1801 (TG1665), possibly suggesting that Girtin visited Ripon again in 1799 or 1800 on return visits to Yorkshire. I am aware, therefore, that the main evidence we have that Girtin visited the city in 1796 is that two sketch-like watercolours resemble the outcomes of other drawings made on that trip, and that this judgement has had to be made on the basis of two black and white photographs. It is entirely possible, therefore, that with new evidence to hand, both the date of this work and its function may need to be revisited.

(?) 1796

Lindisfarne: An Interior View of the Ruins of the Priory Church


(?) 1796

Warkworth Hermitage



Pegwell Bay, near Ramsgate


1796 - 1797

Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck


1796 - 1797

Seaton Sluice


1797 - 1798

A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell



Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge



Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge


1800 - 1810

A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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