For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

A Distant View of Whitby

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1628: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Distant View of Whitby, (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 14.3 × 19.2 cm, 5 ⅝ × 7 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Distant View of Whitby
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
14.3 × 19.2 cm, 5 ⅝ × 7 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
346 as 'Tynemouth ... Out-of-Door Sketch'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2016


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; 'the property of a Lady'; her sale, Sotheby’s, 13 November 1997, lot 44 as 'Distant View of Whitby, Yorkshire', £89,950; Jacqui Eli Safra; his sale, Sotheby's, 6 July 2016, lot 349, £81,250

Exhibition History

Cambridge, 1920, no.39 as ’Tynemouth Sands’; London, 1934b, no.915; Amsterdam, 1936, no.219; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.21; Leeds, 1958, no.48; London, 1959, no.723; London, 1962a, no.165; London, 1968a, no.547; Manchester, 1975, no.62 as Tynemouth, Northumberland; Manchester, 1983, no.24 as ’Tynemouth, Northumberland’


Gibson, 1916, p.216, p.220; Davies, 1924, pl.37 as 'Tynemouth'; Binyon, 1933, p.92; Wilenski, 1933, p.181, p.206; Hardie, 1934, p.17; Mayne, 1949, p.104; Williams, 1952, p.102; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.82–83; Lemaître, 1955, p.193; Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, p.19; Bauer, 1998, p.71; Hill, 1999, p.13 as 'Whitby'

About this Work

contemporary photograph. British Museum (Girtin Archive, 35, this is from an album of photographs by Tom Girtin of sites painted by Thomas Girtin).

This fine on-the-spot colour sketch, which for a long time was thought to depict Tynemouth, actually shows a distant view of Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast (see figure 1).1 The confusion is understandable because Girtin’s economical use of wash to rapidly record a stormy evening effect generalises the topographical features, so that the view does indeed resemble Tynemouth further south, a site that the artist visited and painted on his first trip to the north east, in 1796 (TG1086). In fact, the view depicted is taken from the beach at Sandsend, looking south to the ruins of Whitby Abbey silhouetted in the distance, though Girtin has brought the headland somewhat closer to. The correct identification of the view links the sketch to a number of others of Sandsend and the nearby Mulgrave Castle that are to be found in the Whitworth Book of Drawings (TG1323, TG1324 and TG1600–1625), and its measurements suggest overwhelmingly that it too was detached from there at some point. The small stub that is all that is left of page twenty-eight includes the remains of a sketch in pencil and watercolour that accords with the Whitby view, and that would make sense because the next image (on page twenty-nine) shows the coastal village of Sandsend itself. The book was bound after Girtin’s death as the end paper has an ‘1803’ watermark and it is possible that the pages were reordered at this time, but on balance it is likely that Girtin worked on consecutive pages of his own gathering of papers assembled, in part, to help with the practicalities of sketching from nature. The final form of the Book of Drawings was created, I suspect, at the behest of the artist’s brother John Girtin (1773–1821) who appropriated material from the studio after his death including ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’, a combination that accords with the unusual makeup of the book and it is possible that he was responsible for detaching this sheet (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).2 However, it is clear that Girtin had been selling his sketches from early on in his career and on balance I believe that inscriptions in the book referring to works 'cold on the spot Sold … 8.8.0’ are by the artist himself and that they indicate the value placed by sympathetic patrons on informal works such as this (page thirty-nine).

All of the views in this part of North Yorkshire appear to have been made during the artist’s stay at Mulgrave Castle as the guest of Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831), and there is some evidence that this sketch may even have come from the family collection. A sale in 1873, which included works from Mulgrave Castle, listed a watercolour by Girtin – ‘Coast from Sandsend. Presented by the artist to Hon. E. Phipps’ – and the low price that it realised suggests that it might have been a sketch (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 29 May 1873, lot 78). It is possible that the first known owner of the work, the artist’s son, Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74), may have acquired the work at this sale, though equally there may be another sketch made on the coast that is still to be discovered. It is not known for sure when Girtin visited Mulgrave Castle and made the sketches of the locality that appear in the Book of Drawings. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that it was in the spring of 1801, basing their belief on a reference in the diary of Joseph Farington (1747–1821), who noted that Lord Mulgrave had recalled that Girtin ‘was with Him a little time at Mulgrave Castle’ at a point when he ‘laboured under symptoms of an Asthma which not long afterwards killed him’ (Farington, Diary, 24 May 1807). This, and the fact that Girtin did not produce his watercolour of Sandsend until 1802 (TG1702), is not quite enough to convince me that the sketches were taken in a year other than 1800, however – not least because Girtin was documented as having travelled as far north as the Scottish Borders in that year, and Mulgrave Castle could have been taken in on the way (Jenkins, Notes, 1852). A date of 1800 would appear to be more suitable for the group as a whole, therefore.

1797 - 1798

Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast





by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The correct title for the sketch, first suggested by 'E Jones' was confirmed by Tom Girtin (1913–94) who travelled to the Yorkshire coast in search of the viewpoints adopted by his ancestor (Girtin Archive, 32). The atmospheric photo taken by Tom is annotated ‘Note how Girtin has brought the headland of Whitby very much closer’ (Girtin Archive, 35).
  2. 2 John Girtin lists this amongst the contents of his brother's studio. Details are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.