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Works Thomas Girtin

An Extensive Landscape with the Ruins of Mitford Castle

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1530: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), An Extensive Landscape with the Ruins of Mitford Castle, (?) 1800, graphite on wove paper (watermark: J WHAT), 18.9 × 29 cm, 7 ⁷⁄₁₆ × 11 ⅜ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1182).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Extensive Landscape with the Ruins of Mitford Castle
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper (watermark: J WHAT)
18.9 × 29 cm, 7 ⁷⁄₁₆ × 11 ⅜ in

‘Mitford’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Durham and Northumberland

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
175 as 'Called Thetford, Norfolk'; '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Dr John Percy (1817–89); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 17 April 1890, lot 514 as 'An Extensive Landscape'; John Postle Heseltine (1843–1929); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 29 May 1935, lot 313; volume bought by Bernard Squire, £32; bought by Thomas Girtin (1874-1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

New Haven, 1986a, no.46 as ’Thetford, Norfolk’


YCBA Online as 'Thetford, Norfolk' (Accessed 17/09/2022)

About this Work

This hitherto unidentified landscape has been titled ‘Thetford’ as a result of a misreading of the inscription in the lower right-hand corner (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.158), but the hilly scene in no way resembles Norfolk, and, in any case, Girtin did not travel anywhere near that town at any stage of his career. Indeed, so unlikely is the idea that this image depicts Thetford, or that the sketch is a copy taken from an image of the site by another artist, that even if the inscription is in Girtin’s hand, I was happy to ignore it completely as a mistake. As a result, I sought to identify the subject by other means, though until recently this proved equally problematic. My first instinct was to look amongst Girtin’s finished watercolours and to work through the implications of the two vertical folds in the paper, seen just off centre. These are almost certainly unrelated to the use of a portable camera obscura, which commonly required artists to fold their paper in order to fit it in. Instead, I suspect that the folds were used by the artist to check the effect of cropping the composition to fit the subject into a vertical format, as is the case with the panoramic drawing The Village of Jedburgh (TG1228). Sadly, though, none of Girtin’s surviving watercolours either match the revised composition or feature the same topographical features. A more subjective approach equally drew a blank. A gut feeling that the view shows a Yorkshire scene, and more specifically that it depicts Knaresborough, ran up against the problem that what appears to be a medieval gatehouse in the centre of the drawing, featuring a double round tower, does not accord with the details of the castle above the river Nidd as seen in A Distant View of Knaresborough, from the South East (TG1669).

Resolution of the problem arrived, however, courtesy of Dr Edward Impey, who pointed me in the direction of Mitford Castle in Northumberland, which is three kilometres west of Morpeth. The view, it now transpires, looks south along the river Wansbeck to the fragmentary ruins of the castle with the still extant mills in the middle ground, and this was confirmed by the drawing’s close resemblance to an earlier watercolour by Francis Grose (c.1731–91) (see figure 1). Girtin may have known the site from the engraving of the drawing that was published in Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales in 1786, and indeed it is possible that his drawing was adapted from the print (Grose, 1785–87). However, we know that Girtin visited Morpeth in 1800 when he gathered the material from which he painted major watercolours of the town (such as TG1709) as well as the gatehouse of the castle (TG1540), and the size of the sketch, together with the vertical folds, suggests that it was sketched on the spot in 1800 with a major studio watercolour in mind. The composition has a number of features in common with the monumental views of Harewood House and Knaresborough that Girtin produced for Edward Lascelles (1764–1814) in 1800–1801, with a series of diagonals providing a taught structure in which to integrate a secondary architectural subject within a complex and varied landscape on a large scale (TG1547).

Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) also painted a view of the castle from the Wansbeck when he visited the area in 1801 (see figure 2). Turner inscribed the drawing ‘Milford Castle’, however, and its subject, as with Girtin’s slightly earlier sketch, has in consequence only just been identified.



(?) 1796

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins



A Distant View of Knaresborough, from the South East


(?) 1802

Morpeth Bridge


(?) 1800

The Gatehouse of Morpeth Castle


(?) 1801

Harewood House, from the South West


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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