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Works Thomas Girtin

Alnwick Castle, from Brizlee

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1092: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Alnwick Castle, from Brizlee, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 40.7 × 53 cm, 16 × 20 ⅞ in. Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.

Photo courtesy of Duke of Northumberland (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Alnwick Castle, from Brizlee
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
40.7 × 53 cm, 16 × 20 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Country House View; Durham and Northumberland; The Landscape Park

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2002


Colnaghi, 1840s; acquired in 1854 by Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland (1792–1865); then by descent

Exhibition History

Munich, 1973, no.132; London, 2002, no.167; Canberra, 2008, no.1

About this Work

This fine view looking east across the park to Alnwick Castle, with a glimpse of the river Aln as it meanders to the coast, did not enter the collection at Alnwick until it was purchased by Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland (1792–1865), in 1854, and so the work was not commissioned from Girtin, despite the fact that all of the land shown here belonged to the family. This is surprising, for the glorious view out over the town and castle of Alnwick is calculated to celebrate the recent efforts of the Percy family to regenerate an estate that had been badly neglected. The fine skyscape plays an important role here, for the beams of light pick out many of the improvements. Shafts of light thus fall on the Lion Bridge, designed by Robert Adam (1728–98), as well as the Denwick Bridge of Robert Mylne (1733–1811), both improvements of Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland (c.1714–86), whilst the family’s efforts to restore the gatehouse of the twelfth-century Alnwick Abbey and the castle itself are either highlighted or given great prominence. The viewpoint chosen by the artist is also significant. Adam’s Gothic Brizlee Tower was built as a memorial to Lady Elizabeth Percy (1716–76) by her husband, the 1st Duke, and from here the castle is surrounded by a fertile country that, under the guidance of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–83), is well managed as well as picturesque. The combination of a high viewpoint and a radiant light, as with prospects such as Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Hill (TG1635), emphasises the landscape’s luxuriant variety and prosperity. The foreground too has a role to play, for, though it is typical in being featureless, it is occupied by a mother and child, who attest to the landowner’s benevolence; the bundles of sticks they carry would have indicated to viewers that the duke respected their customary right to gather fuel from the estate’s fields. Towards the end of a summer’s day, they share our view out over the fertile fields to the centre of a well-governed and well-regulated world that, if it was not commissioned by the owner of the estate, was still well calculated to attract a purchaser by dint of its rich associations. All of this is considerably enhanced by the work’s good state of preservation, with the wonderful sky, which covers almost half of the composition, giving us some idea of the original appearance of badly faded watercolours such as A View on the River Wharfe (TG1674). 

The fact that the work was not a commission makes it all the more likely that the artist sketched the view on which the watercolour is based on his tour to the north east and the Scottish Borders in 1796. Girtin certainly visited the nearby Bamburgh Castle in that year, and it would have made sense for him to have sketched this view at that time, rather than to have made a considerable detour from his route during his return visit to the Scottish Borders in 1800. Another pencil sketch of a view in Alnwick Park, showing Hulne Priory (TG1091), has been dated to 1800, but it too appears to have been executed in 1796, and an untraced pencil sketch titled ‘Alnwick Hall “from across the park”’ might have been the ultimate source for this watercolour (Exhibitions: Phillips, 12 June 1883, lot 117). If this too was produced in 1796, it would seem that the artist, sometime around 1800, looked back through the sketches he had made a few years earlier and found a topographical subject that he could treat in a way that might have a more universal appeal than the standard estate portrait.


Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Hill


1800 - 1801

A View on the River Wharfe


(?) 1796

Hulne Priory in Alnwick Park


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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