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Works Thomas Girtin

Bamburgh Castle, from the Village


Primary Image: TG1459: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Bamburgh Castle, from the Village, 1797, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 42 × 54.5 cm, 16 ½ × 21 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Guy Peppiatt Fine Art Ltd. (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: John Walker (active 1776–1802), 'from an Original Drawing by T. Girtin', etching and engraving, 'Bamborough-Castle, Northumberland' for The Copper-Plate Magazine, vol.3, no.68, pl.136, 1 September 1797, 15 × 20 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ⅞ in. Reprinted in Thomas Miller, Turner and Girtin's Picturesque Views, p.81, 1854. British Museum, London (1862,0712.889).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Bamburgh Castle, from the Village
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
42 × 54.5 cm, 16 ½ × 21 ½ in

‘T. Girtin 1797’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin; 'Bamborough Castle / Northumberland' on the back of the original mount (now atteched to the back of the frame)

Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Durham and Northumberland; Picturesque Vernacular

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
192 as 'Bamborough Castle'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in March 2022


George Selby (1724–1804); then by descent to Sir Geoffrey Selby Church (d.1979); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 13 March 1980, lot 137, £25,000; B. Pollen; Guy Peppiatt Fine Art Ltd., 2022

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1931, no.132; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.15; Newcastle, 1982, no.80; Edinburgh, 1982, no.27


Davies, 1924, p.26; Mayne, 1949, p.44, p.107; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.63–64; Hill, 1999, p.8

About this Work

This imposing watercolour of Bamburgh Castle was commissioned by George Selby (1724–1804), who lived in nearby Twizel in Northumberland and who, according to a Selby family tradition, accommodated Girtin during his northern tour in 1796 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.160). The large watercolour is prominently signed and dated, one of only two works from 1797 to be inscribed. Uniquely for any of Girtin’s commissioned watercolours it has retained its original mount, and the carved wood-and-plaster frame also appears to date from Selby’s time. Twizel is only a few kilometres away from the coast, and Bamburgh Castle would have been an obvious subject for Selby to have ordered from Girtin. Though there is no specific evidence that Girtin stayed with the patron, it is not inconceivable that he travelled north with a commission to produce such a sizeable watercolour and that it was orders such as this that supported him financially on his journey. Certainly, there is no doubt that the artist sketched his subject during the 1796 tour, and the watercolour is consequently a key document for establishing Girtin’s route and for dating the works that resulted.

There is something of an irony in this, since Girtin had already painted an image of Bamburgh Castle from much the same angle, looking from the east (TG0116), working from a drawing produced in 1792 by the amateur artist James Moore (1762–99) (see source image TG0116). Girtin’s earlier view, dating from around 1793, followed Moore’s drawing closely, though intriguingly it excludes the cottage that in Selby’s commission features so prominently. With a perfectly usable view of the castle already to hand, Girtin must have concentrated his attention when he visited the site for himself on the village of Bamburgh, with its run-down cottages sheltering under the massive walls. Was this a case of the patron stipulating a shift in emphasis away from the castle ruins, or a matter of Selby supporting a change in Girtin’s approach to subjects such as Bamburgh, which had hitherto been directed at patrons with primarily antiquarian interests? The uncharacteristically prominent and complex figure group outside the cottage, more redolent of a genre scene, raises other intriguing questions relating to the patron’s local affiliations. Is there any significance, one is prompted to ask, in the poor state of the cottage or the actions of two figures who appear to be engaged in an act of charity, not least because an engraving of the composition does not include any overt signs of poverty (see the print after, above)? Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak argued that the artist was ‘not uninfected by the taste for sentimental and picturesque motives’ that abounds in the cottage-door scenes of Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) and George Morland (1763–1804), but, if the work was commissioned then there is a chance, worthy of further investigation, that something rather more significant is going on here (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.64). A watercolour dated 1808 by John Christian Schetky (1778–1874) taken from the same viewpoint and featuring the same dilapidated cottages, left and right, rules out an alternative reading of the work, namely that Girtin invented the picturesque foreground (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (1937P374)).

The latter point raises further questions about the engraving that was published in The Copper-Plate Magazine in the same year (1797), one of four northern subjects by Girtin that were reproduced by John Walker (active 1776–1802). Girtin and Loshak assumed that it was the Selby view of Bamburgh that Walker worked from (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.160). However, whilst it is possible that the patron lent his watercolour to the publisher and engraver, the differences in the figures between the print and drawing might more satisfactorily be explained by the existence of another, smaller version of the composition that Girtin produced specifically for engraving. In fact, another version is recorded in the sale of Thomas Woolner (1825–92) (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 21 May 1895, lot 72), and this too was said in the catalogue to have been the work that was engraved. This also seems to have been the watercolour that was later in the collection of Henry Charles Green (unknown dates), where it was seen by Tom Girtin (1913–94), though he concluded that it was not by Girtin (Girtin Archive, 32). The work has not been seen since the 1950s and no image of it appears to exist, so it has not been possible to confirm this assessment, but, either way, I now suspect that the Selby commission was not the basis for the engraving.

1792 - 1793

Bamburgh Castle, from the East


1792 - 1793

Bamburgh Castle, from the East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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