For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe


Primary Image: TG1680: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe, 1801, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 32.4 × 52.7 cm, 12 ¾ × 20 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: John Charles Bromley (1795–1839), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), 'The Drawing in the possession of Sir William Pilkington, Bart.', mezzotint on steel, engraver's proof, Bolton Abbey on the River Wharfe for The Rivers of England, pl.14, 1 June 1825, 13.9 × 22.9 cm, 5 ½ × 9 in. Tate (T04871).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
32.4 × 52.7 cm, 12 ¾ × 20 ¾ in

‘Girtin 1801’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe (TG1616)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
438 as 'Bolton Abbey'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2008


Sir William Pilkington, 8th Baronet (1775–1850) (according to the mezzotint, 1825); ... Harry Lawrence Bradfer-Lawrence (1887–1965) (lent to Agnew's, 1953); then by descent to P. J. D. Gray and Bridget Gray (lent to Tokyo, 1970); then by descent; Christie’s, 10 December 2008, lot 25 as 'Bolton Abbey on the Banks of the River Wharfe, Yorkshire'

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1953a, no.80; Arts Council, 1953, no.24; Geneva, 1955, no.72; Leeds, 1958, no.54; London, 1963a, no.25; Tokyo, 1970, no.78; on loan to Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1983


Leeds Arts Calendar, vol.6, no.19 (1952), p.22; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.78; Tate Gallery, 1996, p.22

About this Work

This view of the full extent of the remains of the priory church at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, looking along the river Wharfe from the south east, is based on a sketch in the Whitworth Book of Drawings (TG1616), though Girtin made a number of changes to the composition. The artist thus cut the scene to the left and added more of the riverbank to the right, featuring the cliff that is seen in both Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe (TG1684) and On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey (TG1554). At the same time, he increased the height of the hill shown behind the ruins. The village buildings that lie in the shadow of the building have also been simplified to give greater prominence to the priory, though the artist did not try to hide the fact that the picturesque ruined east end gives way at the transept to the intact part of the building, which had been refurbished after the Dissolution of the Monasteries as the village parish church. In the absence of any human presence, and combined with a twilight effect that enhances a sense of tranquillity and retirement, the modern buildings seem a natural extension of the priory, and there is a timeless quality to the composition that means that, though the empty windows of the east end signify ruins, the settlement as a whole could equally pass for a site of monastic retreat in its heyday.

The watercolour is now so badly faded that it is difficult to appreciate the twilight effect, which was fundamental to recreating the site’s celebrated air of ‘seclusion’ and ‘retirement’, and which was said to form an ideal ‘retreat … from the strife and turbulency of the busy world’ (Anonymous, 1813, pp.15–16). The work was reproduced as a mezzotint in 1825 (see the print after, above), prior to its deterioration, and looking at the print at least gives us some idea of the original effect that impressed its reviewers, who commented favourably on its recreation of ‘one of the most beautiful of Girtin’s twilight effects’, so ‘spirited and rich’.1 The time of day depicted by Girtin no doubt meant that the work was not highly coloured, but the almost monochrome appearance of the watercolour that we see today is the result of the loss of the full range of greys in the clouds, much of the blues in the sky and its reflection in the water, and all of the greens of the vegetation. Patches of blue remaining in the sky suggest that the artist used a more permanent pigment in some areas, but the employment of the unstable indigo for the same colour, and gamboge for yellow, might have been enough to account for much of the disastrous deterioration in the work.

The mezzotint records that the original drawing was owned by Sir William Pilkington (1775–1850), who was a near neighbour in Yorkshire of Girtin’s great patron Edward Lascelles (1764–1814) of Harewood House, with whom the artist probably stayed when he made the sketch for this drawing. However, only one of the sizeable group of watercolours of Bolton painted by Girtin was commissioned by Lascelles (TG1554), and the majority of the views were actually made for disposal on the art market by Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. This work conforms to the larger of the two standard sizes of watercolours that Girtin produced for Reynolds in 1800 and 1801. Though the evidence in this case is not compelling as the mezzotint was not made by Reynolds, it is unlikely that this work was produced on commission, and it thus reflects the artist’s estimate of what subjects would sell and how best to treat them to create a successful commodity.

(?) 1800

Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe


1800 - 1801

Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe, near Bolton Abbey


1800 - 1801

On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey


1800 - 1801

On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c., no.453, 24 September 1825, p.620; The Eclectic Review, new series, vol.1, December 1825, p.526

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.