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Works Thomas Girtin

An Ancient Oak, Said to Be on the River Ure

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1692: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), An Ancient Oak, Said to Be on the River Ure, 1800–01, watercolour on laid paper, 24.4 × 30.5 cm, 9 ⅝ × 12 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Ancient Oak, Said to Be on the River Ure
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Watercolour on laid paper
24.4 × 30.5 cm, 9 ⅝ × 12 in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Trees and Woods; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
387 as 'On the River Ure, Yorks ... Probably done on the spot'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Exhibition Catalogue


J. Palser & Sons; bought by S. H. Robinson, c.1930; then by descent; Sotheby’s, 22 November 1961, lot 59 as 'On the Ure, Yorkshire'; Derek Lockett (d.1993); Trustees of the Clonterbrook Estate, Cheshire

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1965, no.25; Manchester, 1975, no.73; Coventry, 1987, no.98


Hawcroft, 1970, p.32; Clarke, Wright and Barnett, 1987, p.40; Tuck, 1997, p.389

About this Work

This evidently faded watercolour, showing an oak tree on the banks of a river, is currently known only from a black and white photograph, which makes it difficult to challenge Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak’s assertion that it was probably ‘done on the spot’ in 1800 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.187). However, Francis Hawcroft knew the watercolour well and stated that it was a studio work, and that would certainly make sense of the date, since as far as I have been able to make out, the artist’s only trip to Wensleydale took place in 1799, when he dated a sketch of the village of Middleham (TG1508) (Hawcroft, 1970, p.32). That is of course if the watercolour does show a view on the river Ure, since there is nothing in the way of distinctive topographical features to corroborate the title, and no inscription appears to have been recorded either.

The dominant feature of the work, the ancient oak, certainly does not provide any evidence of the location of the view, for, at a time when many artists produced what amounted to portraits of some of the nation’s most venerable trees, Girtin created a singularly unconvincing arboreal image where both branches and foliage fail to follow the most basic botanical principles. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the watercolour appeared in the exhibition The Blasted Oak in 1987, it was in a section on the tree’s ‘Role in Composition’, with the comment that ‘the solitary oak is a useful solid mass to place in the middle ground of a composition and against which recession may be contrasted’ (Clarke, Wright and Barnett, 1987, p.40). Individual trees do sometime feature in the artist’s earliest drawings (TG0174 and TG0285), but, although the example shown here is at least recognisable as an oak, in general Girtin showed no interest in differentiating between species, and it was indeed their role within the composition that was paramount.


Middleham Village, with the Castle Beyond


1794 - 1795

A View in Windsor Great Park with Deer


(?) 1795

An Unidentified Landscape with a Figure Seated on a Gate under a Tree


by Greg Smith

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