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Works Thomas Girtin

Barnard Castle, from the River Tees

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1069: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Barnard Castle, from the River Tees, (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 27.9 × 34.9 cm, 11 × 13 ¾ in. The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. Presented by The Art Fund, 1947 (B.M.1061).

Photo courtesy of The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Presented by The Art Fund, 1947 (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Barnard Castle, from the River Tees
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
27.9 × 34.9 cm, 11 × 13 ¾ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Durham and Northumberland; River Scenery

Barnard Castle, from the River Tees (TG1068)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
189ii as 'Barnard Castle, Durham'; '1798–9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in October 2017


J. Palser & Sons (stock no.14468); bought by Robert Nesham (1846–1928), 16 May 1895; his sale, Christie's, 30 July 1924, lot 51; bought by 'Agnew', 63 gns; Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.555); R. Nettlefold; George Beatson Blair (d.1940); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 20 December 1946, lot 23; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £136; presented by the National Art-Collections Fund (The Art Fund), 1947

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1925, no.77; Agnew’s, 1931, no.94; Agnew’s, 1952, no.9; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.98; Newcastle, 1982, no.85; Barnard Castle, 1996, p.7; Barnard Castle, 2013, no number


House, Rudd and Seward, 2013, p.23

About this Work

This is the later of two watercolours showing the ruins of Barnard Castle from the north bank of the river Tees, with the soon-to-be-demolished chapel just about visible on the bridge to the right (the other being TG1069). Both works appear to be based on a sketch made on the spot during Girtin’s first independent tour, to the northern counties and the Scottish Borders in 1796. The untraced sketch would therefore postdate another pencil drawing of Barnard Castle from the Tees that Girtin made at the home of his early patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (TG0232), which was almost certainly copied from the work of another artist, possibly Thomas Hearne (1744–1817). In contrast, this view, which was taken from further upriver, shows the castle from a slightly different angle and includes less of the buildings to the right. The watercolour must therefore have been based on the untraced on-the-spot sketch rather than the drawing made for Monro, though the process of producing the copy perhaps influenced Girtin’s choice of viewpoint when he finally got to visit the location and sketch it at first hand. That said, it is not clear why Girtin chose to depict the river as such a deep blue when, as a visit to Barnard Castle would have revealed, the Tees at this point takes on a distinctive brownish tone due to the colour of the underlying rocks.

The earlier version of this composition was engraved, and it may actually have been painted specifically for reproduction, so it is interesting to look at the differences with this watercolour to see what they tell us about Girtin’s relationship with the art market, for, if there is one thing of which we can be reasonably sure, this work was not produced on commission. The first thing to note, even though it is not immediately apparent, is the change in proportions, from the standard landscape format of the earlier work to a more upright composition, and this is achieved primarily by compressing each of the lateral elements and adding a little more sky. Here the telling comparison is with the second of the two views titled The River Tweed at Kelso (TG1714, the other being TG1713), which similarly takes a more panoramic river scene and compresses it to create a composition with the same proportions as this, the second Barnard Castle view. In addition to the obvious inclusion of the prominent figure of the fisherman in the foreground, the later view of Barnard Castle sees other changes, the most appealing of which is the shift to a warmer colouring, which creates a very different effect: a bright sunny day with the water sparkling with life. Here, another comparison might be made with the lovely summery effect found in a work that also probably dates from around 1800, Appledore, from Instow Sands (TG1737). Both the Appledore view and the more compact Kelso scene appear to have been made by Girtin for sale on the open market through the efforts of Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. Although there is no evidence from this work’s provenance, I think this may have been the case with this second Barnard Castle subject as well. This then might be an example of the ‘Drawings by Girtin … smaller size’ that Reynolds valued at £4 4s each and that would have needed to stand alone from their ostensible antiquarian subjects to attract a sale (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1

It is possible that the early history of this work has been confused with that of a ‘Landscape, with Man Fishing’, which was exhibited at Girtin’s 1875 centenary exhibition, lent from the collection of the artist’s grandson, George Wyndham Girtin (1836–1912) (Exhibitions: London, 1875, no.63). The watercolour remained in the family collection until it was sold at auction in 1884, since when it has not been seen (Exhibitions: Davis, Castleton, Sherborne, 2 December 1884, lot 44). As the only Girtin watercolour with a prominent man fishing, the Barnard Castle view must be a candidate to be the lost drawing, though the measurements given in the 1875 catalogue, 8 ¼ × 10 in (21 × 25.4 cm), do not tally.

(?) 1800

Barnard Castle, from the River Tees


1794 - 1795

Barnard Castle and Bridge, from the River Tees


1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


(?) 1800

Appledore, from Instow Sands


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The details are contained in a letter from Reynolds to Sawrey Gilpin (1733–1807). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4).

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