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Works Thomas Girtin

A River Scene with a Tower, Said to Be the Tyne near Hexham

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1090: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A River Scene with a Tower, Said to Be the Tyne near Hexham, 1797–98, watercolour on wove paper, 10.5 × 15 cm, 4 ⅛ × 6 in. Leeds Art Gallery (13.114/53).

Photo courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A River Scene with a Tower, Said to Be the Tyne near Hexham
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Watercolour on wove paper
10.5 × 15 cm, 4 ⅛ × 6 in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
347 as 'View on the Tyne near Hexham, Northumberland'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and February 2020


William Reed of Sunninghill (d.1865); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 21 April 1866, lot 20 as 'Hexham'; bought by 'Noseda', 10s; Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911); by a settlement to his sister, Ida Johanna Hog Rogge, née Girtin (1834–1925), January 1880 as 'Hexham Northumberland'; sold by her to J. Palser & Sons (stock no.15482); bought by Norman Lupton, 6 March 1911; Agnes Lupton (1874–1950) and Norman Darnton Lupton (1875–1953); bequeathed to the Gallery, 1953

Exhibition History

London, 1960, no.61; Newcastle, 1982, no.87

About this Work

This small river scene poses a number of problems for a cataloguer that stem from uncertainty about the identity of the subject. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak titled the work ‘View on the Tyne near Hexham, Northumberland’, but, although the location of the river view was identified as Hexham when the drawing first appeared on the art market in 1866, there is no evidence that Girtin ever visited the town. Another view, which Girtin and Loshak identified as ‘Hexham Bridge’ (TG1535), actually depicts Wetherby, and the river shown in this watercolour in no way resembles the much more substantial Tyne as it flows by the Northumbrian town (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.182). An old, now hidden inscription on the drawing says ‘Etal’, however, and indeed the river Till (near the more northerly location) does feel a closer fit with Girtin’s image. Moreover, there is some resemblance between the tower seen here and the castle, which is depicted in another watercolour by Girtin (TG1115). However, this is hardly conclusive, and without further evidence the issue must remain unresolved.

All of this has a significant effect on the dating of the work, which Girtin and Loshak give as 1800, presumably on the grounds of Hexham’s proximity to Morpeth, which Girtin appears to have visited in that year. Even if the view did turn out to be of Etal, a date of 1800 would not be out of the question as Girtin seems to have returned to that area on his way to the Scottish Borders, but that presupposes that the work was coloured on the spot, and I am unconvinced by suggestions to this effect. The works that Girtin coloured from nature – whether on his first independent tour to the north, in 1796 (such as TG1095), or on later trips to Wales and the north again (such as TG1327) – are marked by areas left untouched or unresolved. Moreover, the way that this sketch is finished to a uniform degree, and employs superimposed washes of colour, seems to me to have more in common with a different kind of commodity that Girtin actually fabricated in the studio. A dated view of Pegwell Bay from 1796 (TG0372), 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, helps to identify a significant group of small studio watercolours, including views of Bothal Castle (TG1089) and Seaton Sluice (TG1088) that, despite their evidently hasty production, were produced in the studio. With no inscription or date to help, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove that a work was created from nature, and indeed that is the point; a skilful practitioner can blur the distinctions between a studio work and a sketch at will, and this is what I suspect Girtin did in this case in order to meet the growing demand for less formal examples of his work.

(?) 1800

Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir


1796 - 1797

Etal Castle


(?) 1796

Warkworth Hermitage


(?) 1798

Pont Seiont, Looking towards Mynydd Mawr (Big Mountain)



Pegwell Bay, near Ramsgate


1796 - 1797

Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck


1796 - 1797

Seaton Sluice


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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