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Works Thomas Girtin

A Hilly Landscape with Sheep and Cattle

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Hilly Landscape with Sheep and Cattle, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 28.2 × 47.5 cm, 12 × 19 ¼ in. The Canon Gallery, near Oundle.

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Hilly Landscape with Sheep and Cattle
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
28.2 × 47.5 cm, 12 × 19 ¼ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Unidentified Landscape; The Landscape Park

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in November 2023


Eastbourne Auctions, 15 February 2023, lot 1606 as 'Pastoral Landscape with Cattle and Sheep ... 19th century watercolour', £95; The Canon Gallery, near Oundle, 2023 as 'A View in the Yorkshire Dales with Sheep in the Foreground, Cattle Beyond and Church Spire on the Horizon'

About this Work

This badly faded watercolour appeared at auction in 2023 titled a 'Pastoral Landscape with Cattle and Sheep' and was described simply as a ‘19th century watercolour’ with no suggestion that it might be by Thomas Girtin (Eastbourne Auctions, 15 February 2023, lot 1606). The identity of the artist was first recognised by Jeremy Green and his attribution of the work to Girtin was confirmed by a viewing in December 2023. The attribution to Girtin is supported by technical features such as the use of a textured laid paper and the adoption of two different blue pigments, one for the sky that has remained and another for the greens of the trees and grass which has not, as well as a characteristic panoramic treatment of the landscape. Sadly, however, it is the distinctive effects of fading which point even more strongly to a Girtin watercolour of around 1798/99 when the artist’s use of fugitive blue and yellow pigments such as indigo and gamboge typically left a residual preponderance of earth colours, in this case dominating the middle ground where the three-dimensional structure of the trees has been badly compromised in consequence.1 Although a progression into the distance has to a certain extent been maintained with the brightly lit meadow in the centre and the diagonal touches in the distance opening up the space and concentrating interest in a panoramic strip, the sky that covers almost half of the composition has also been badly affected. The blue component of the greys in the clouds has been lost, robbing them of any sense of depth or modelling and leaving an unmodulated and flat expanse and a pinkish hue that gives a false impression of a sunset at variance with the shadows cast within the picture.

What appears to be a church tower peeking over the hill to the right is the only clue we have regarding the subject of the watercolour and with no inscription to help the location depicted by Girtin is unlikely to be identified, though based on the artist’s usual practice we can be reasonably sure that the composition is not an imaginary one. Both in terms of its structure and its current faded appearance, the gently sloping landscape has much in common with three other unidentified views by Girtin: a river scene with an unidentified country house partly obscured by trees (TG1557); and a pair of more panoramic views of parkland scenery (TG1545 and TG1545 figure 1). The latter works have been described as showing views in the park at Harewood in Yorkshire but, although that cannot be confirmed, it may be that some if not all four watercolours depict the farmland on a substantial country estate, perhaps one of the artist’s patrons. If this proves to be the case then the suggestion that this is a view in Yorkshire is a logical one as many of Girtin’s most significant patrons came from the county, though we are not helped in the search for the subject by Girtin’s habit of favouring the typical over the exceptional or the specific in his choice of scenery to paint.

1798 - 1799

A Landscape with an Unidentified House


1798 - 1799

A Lake Scene with Cattle, Said to Be in Harewood Park


by Greg Smith


  1. 1 For a highly informative account by William Henry Pyne (1770–1843) of Girtin’s palette and his use of fugitive vegetable pigments, see the Documents section of the Archive (1823 – Item 1).

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