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Works Thomas Girtin

A Mountain Stream in Spate, Possibly the River Wharfe

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1675: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), A Mountain Stream in Spate, Possibly the River Wharfe, (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on paper, 18.9 × 26.8 cm, 7 ⁷⁄₁₆ × 10 ⅛ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Mountain Stream in Spate, Possibly the River Wharfe
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
18.9 × 26.8 cm, 7 ⁷⁄₁₆ × 10 ⅛ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work; Visible Fold in the Paper
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; Waterfall Scenery; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
379 as 'A Mountain Stream in Spate ... (Possibly in the neighbourhood of Bolton.)'
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Palser Gallery, London; bought by Leonard Gordon Duke (1890–1971), 1932, £25 (D816); bought from him by Spink & Son Ltd, London, 1957, £100; Kenneth Clark, Lord Clark of Saltwood (1903–83); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 5 July 1984, lot 192; bought by Martyn Gregory Ltd; Davis & Langdale, New York

Exhibition History

Palser Gallery, 1932b, no.24; Eton, 1948, no.25; South London Art Gallery, 1951, no.47 as ’Fell near Bolton’; Martyn Gregory, London, 1985, no.53; New York, 1992, no.49; Brussels, 1994, no.48


Mayne, 1949, p.108

About this Work

This economical and somewhat disorientating study of an upland stream in spate has consistently been linked with the rugged scenery of the upper reaches of the river Wharfe, though, perhaps not surprisingly, given the scarcity of specific topographical features, the site has resisted identification. Leonard Gordon Duke (1889–1971), for instance, who owned the work for a number of years, suggested in the manuscript catalogue of his collection (in the Print Room of the British Museum) that the view shows the river Wharfe above Bolton, and more specifically that it depicts Storiths Crag with the famous narrow gorge known as the Strid. He related it to other desolate local scenes, including views looking down to the stepping stones on the river (TG1684) and towards the surrounding hills (TG1686). Whilst this is perfectly possible, though fundamentally unprovable, the work that springs to my mind is the equally perplexing watercolour A Cliff-Top View, Probably on the Coast of Dorset (TG1239). This watercolour displays similar problems with perspective, and the individual components of the landscape cannot always be satisfactorily resolved either. It is one of the few disappointments of labouring on this catalogue that I have not got significantly closer to working out either drawing. I am quite relaxed about the fact that we will probably never know the location of the scene shown here, but it concerns me not to be able to work out whether this is a bold experiment in composition that presages modernism or is just a botched sketch that should have been consigned to the bin. Indeed, I am still not sure whether this is an on-the-spot sketch or another studio work purporting to have been made in the field, though at least some doubts about Girtin’s authorship have been stilled by the discovery of the unsightly vertical drying fold to the left of the drawing. This typically idiosyncratic feature, together with the work’s palette, which is entirely characteristic of Girtin’s work, has persuaded me that the attribution is on more substantial grounds than the all-too-common formulation applied to similar late sketches – namely, that it could not have been by anyone else. It will be interesting to see what the future brings, and specifically whether a continuing engagement with the artist’s work results in new insights.

1800 - 1801

Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe, near Bolton Abbey


1800 - 1801

An Upland Landscape, Identified as Storiths Heights, near Bolton Abbey


1797 - 1798

A Cliff-Top View, Probably on the Coast of Dorset


by Greg Smith

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