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Works Thomas Girtin

A View on the River Wharfe

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1674: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A View on the River Wharfe, 1800–01, graphite, watercolour and scatching out on laid paper, 32 × 53.3 cm, 12 ⅝ × 21 in. Private Collection, Norfolk (I/E/19).

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A View on the River Wharfe
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scatching out on laid paper
32 × 53.3 cm, 12 ⅝ × 21 in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
443 as 'On the Wharfe, Near Farnley'; '1801'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and April 2022


G. S. Garrett; bought from him by Thos. Agnew & Sons, 19 October 1903 (stock no.4421); bought by Sir Hickman Bacon (1855–1945), 7 February 1905, £42; then by descent

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1904, no.34; Agnew’s, 1905, no.19; London, 1927, no catalogue; Leeds, 1937, no.19; Agnew’s, 1946, no.95; Arts Council, 1946, no.80; Boston, 1948, no.134; Arts Council, 1951, no.84; Bedford, 1952, no.45; Paris, 1953, no.55; Norwich, 1955, no.37; Geneva, 1955, no.73; New York, 1956, no.39; King’s Lynn, 1967, no.43; Manchester, 1975, no.89; New York, 1987, no.282; Harewood, 1999, no.21; Dulwich, 2001, no.11; London, 2002, no.129; Ghent, 2007, no.127; Kendal, 2012, no.8 as from the collection of Edward Lascelles


Davies, 1924, pl.54; Binyon, 1931, pp.110–11; Binyon, 1933, p.105; Binyon, 1944, p.94; Mayne, 1949, p.62, pp.65–66, p.106, pl.44; Williams, 1952, p.107; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.77–78; Gaunt, 1964, pp.122–23; Reynolds, 1971, pp.90–91; Wilton, 1977, p.32, p.187; Thornes, 1999, p.179; Bower, 2002, p.139; Hoozee, 2007, pp.190–93; Butler, 2010, pp.36–37

About this Work

Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak suggested that this view, which has always been described as showing the river Wharfe in Yorkshire, was taken near Farnley, close to Harewood House, where Girtin stayed with his patron Edward Lascelles (1764–1814) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954). More recently, David Hill has argued convincingly that though the site cannot be definitively identified, in all likelihood it ‘represents a scene on the Wharfe between Ilkley and Bolton Abbey, looking towards Bolton Bridge’, in which case ‘the hill in the left distance is Simon’s Seat’ and the scene is significantly further upriver than Farnley (Hill, 1999, p.38). Simon’s Seat is visible in one of Girtin’s most famous compositions, Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe, realised in two versions (TG1684 and TG1685) and based on a sketch that was almost certainly made in the summer of 1800 (TG1683), when Girtin is documented as having stayed with Lascelles.1 The chances are that this work too was made at much the same time and from a drawing executed on the same excursion from Harewood. However, unlike in the case of another watercolour, On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey (TG1554), there is no evidence that this work was painted for Lascelles, and it does not appear to have been included in the family sale in 1858, when fifteen works, including the larger Wharfe view, were disposed of (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 53). The titles under which the watercolours were sold are not specific enough to be entirely sure of the matter, but I am increasingly of the opinion that this work was produced for the open market, rather than for Lascelles, and that its standard size suggests that it was one of the watercolours disposed of by Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer.

In keeping with so many of Girtin’s later watercolours, the Wharfe view has faded badly, so that the sky has lost any trace of blue, the clouds miss their full range of subtly differentiated greys, and the green of the fields and hills has settled to not much more than a dull monochrome. And yet the extraordinary thing is that even in its reduced state, the work continues to impress, and it still inspires many to wax lyrical about its brooding intensity. Indeed, it may be that the fading has actually increased its dramatic impact, so that every element of the composition is reduced to what Hill has described as ‘the absolutely essential’, where no ‘detail, flourish or convention is allowed to complicate the plain grasp of the fundamental’ (Hill, 1999, p.38). I am not sure that I would want to go that far, not least because such a reading confuses artistic intention with the unquantifiable way that the changed state of the work encourages the free play of the spectator’s imagination, but that still leaves me able to celebrate the work’s sense of spaciousness in a composition that resolutely eschews all conventions. With this in mind, it is instructive to turn to the surprisingly numerous accounts of this part of Wharfedale in the travel literature of the period, where this section of the river was generally described as the epitome of a verdant, cultivated and prosperous landscape. Travellers, in what was a popular tourist destination, were struck by the dale’s progress from ‘barrenness to fertility’ and from ‘bold forms to beautiful’, and this section of the dale generally evoked a very different mood from Girtin’s view (Anonymous, 1813, pp.23–24). However, even if the dramatic skyscape and the spaciousness of Girtin’s watercolour in its original state helped to represent a verdant and cultivated scene, the shift to a mood of brooding intensity required considerable aid from the loss of its colour.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid drawing cartridge paper by an unknown Dutch maker, possibly Adriaan Rogge (1732–1816) (Smith, 2002b, p.165; Bower, Report). It was also used by Girtin for A Mountain View, near Beddgelert (TG1322) as well as Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning (TG1636).

1800 - 1801

Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe, near Bolton Abbey


1800 - 1801

Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe, near Bolton Abbey


1800 - 1801

On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey


1798 - 1799

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert


1800 - 1801

Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 YRK York Papers, Borthwick Institute, University of York

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