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Works Thomas Girtin

Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe (page 37 of the Whitworth Book of Drawings)

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1616: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe, (?) 1800, graphite on wove paper, 14.6 × 21.7 cm, 5 ¾ × 8 ½ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1977.15.36).

Photo courtesy of The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Photo by Michael Pollard (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe (page 37 of the Whitworth Book of Drawings)
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
14.6 × 21.7 cm, 5 ¾ × 8 ½ in

‘Bolton’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Part of
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe (TG1680)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
377 as 'Bolton Abbey'; '1800 or 1801'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2022


Sale at Platt Vicarage, Rusholme, Manchester, 1898; sketchbook bought by 'Shepherd'; then by descent to F. W. Shepherd; his sale, Sotheby’s, 7 July 1977, lot 46; bought by Baskett and Day; bought by the Gallery, 1977


Hardie, 1938–39, no.14, p.94 as 'Bolton'

About this Work

This view of the ruins of the priory church at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, seen from the river Wharfe looking upstream to the north, is one of three pencil drawings of the celebrated picturesque site that remain in the Whitworth Book of Drawings (the others being TG1617 and TG1618). At least two other outlines (including TG1615) and two on-the-spot colour sketches (including TG1614) of the same subject have been removed from the book, presumably by Girtin, who sold views such as this to sympathetic patrons for a guinea (£1 1s) for a pencil drawing and up to eight guineas (£8 8s) for a coloured drawing. The history of the Book of Drawings is complicated and confused, but, as the paper historian Peter Bower has argued, it initially took the form of a number of different gatherings of different papers by Girtin, rather than being bought as a ready-made commodity, and it would have looked very different when used for sketching views such as this (Bower, 2002, p.141). What was initially an informal collection of newly made on-the-spot sketches, together with some copies of earlier drawings, could then be used as a model book to show prospective customers so that they might choose what subject to commission. The watercolour that was produced from this drawing is dated 1801 (TG1680), and it may have been ordered in this way by its first known owner, Sir William Pilkington (1775–1850) of nearby Chevet Hall.

Girtin’s gathering of sheets of papers, which I have carefully not described as a sketchbook, appears to have been rearranged when it was bound into book form after the artist’s death. This, I suspect, was done at the behest of the artist’s brother John Girtin (1773–1821) who appropriated material from the artist’s studio after his death including ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’, a combination that accords with the unusual makeup of the book (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 Despite this, at least some of the drawings of Bolton retained their original position and a run of four similar subjects, one of which crosses onto the previous sheet (TG1618), suggests that they were made together; Girtin, it is clear from this, was intent upon surveying the site from every angle, familiar and not. All of the evidence points to the summer of 1800 as the likeliest date for their production, a time when Girtin is documented as having stayed at Harewood House with his patron Edward Lascelles (1764–1814), and it appears that the artist made an excursion to Bolton at Lascelles’ behest to gather material for commissions, including On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey (TG1554).2 The watercolour, which is unfortunately badly faded, can still be appreciated for the way it offers a radical alternative to the standard picturesque views of the riverside ruins at Bolton, with the artist literally turning his back to the famous site. Though some of the other drawings depict the ruins in a manner more in keeping with the standard formula, this work sees the artist trying something different. From this angle, therefore, the ruined east end merges into the substantial presence of Bolton Hall, and indeed the whole composition might be more accurately characterised as a riverside village scene where the priory itself does not disturb the organic unity of the whole.

(?) 1800

Bolton Abbey: The East End of the Priory Church, from across the River Wharfe


(?) 1800

The East End of Bolton Priory Church


(?) 1800

An Interior View of the Choir of Bolton Priory


(?) 1800

A Distant View of Bolton Abbey



Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe


(?) 1800

The East End of Bolton Priory Church


1800 - 1801

On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 John Girtin lists this amongst the contents of his brother's studio. Details are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).
  2. 2 YRK York Papers, Borthwick Institute, University of York

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