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Works Thomas Girtin

Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1089: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 14 × 20 cm, 5 ½ × 7 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Batemans of Stamford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
14 × 20 cm, 5 ½ × 7 ⅞ in

'Girtin' lower left, by Thomas Girtin; 'Bothwell Castle / Girtin' on the back of the old mount

Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Durham and Northumberland; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2017


Arthur K. Hay; then by descent to Joseph B. Hay; his estate sale, Bateman’s, Stamford, 7 October 2017, lot 613 as 'Bothwell Castle, (South Lanarkshire, Scotland', £2,100

About this Work

When this hitherto unknown watercolour appeared at auction in 2017 it was titled ‘Bothwell Castle’, which is a ruined building near Glasgow that is well known from watercolours by Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), amongst others; however, it actually shows a view of the gatehouse tower of Bothal Castle in Northumberland. Located on an incline above the river Wansbeck, Bothal Castle is a few miles inland and north of the coastal settlements at Seaton Sluice and Tynemouth, which Girtin sketched on his tour to the northern counties and the Scottish Borders in 1796 (TG1086 and TG1088). It is highly likely, therefore, that this small watercolour was also based on an untraced sketch made by the artist in 1796. Girtin may have been encouraged to take in the castle by the example of his earliest patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), who sketched the site on his 1792 tour of the same area (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1975.3.696)). And, in turn, Girtin’s untraced sketch might have inspired Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) to visit Bothal on his 1797 trip, as amongst a group of drawings of the location in the Turner Bequest is a view of the castle looking in the other direction (Tate Britain, Turner Bequest (XXXIV 37)).

The small scale and summary style of Girtin’s view of Bothal initially, at least, suggests that it might have been coloured on the spot and thus that it should join a group of drawings from 1796 that marked a profound change in Girtin’s working practice. However, comparing the work with the more diffuse approach to colouring seen in Warkworth Hermitage (TG1095), I have no doubt that it was actually fabricated in the studio on Girtin’s return from the north in order to meet the market for a small sketch-like commodity suited to the portfolios of his earliest patrons and collectors. The crucial comparison here is with a view of Pegwell Bay (TG0372), which is dated 1796 but which could not have been coloured on the spot as Girtin did not travel to the Kent coast in that year, or in all probability ever. The treatment of the sky and the reflections in the water in both works may suggest speedy production, but the uniform way that the watercolours are finished, combined with the manner in which the figures and the buildings have been carefully placed within the composition, suggests the deliberation associated with a studio work. The dated view of Pegwell Bay therefore helps us to identify a significant group of small watercolours, derived from sketches produced in the field in 1796, that because of their evidently hasty production purport to have been coloured on the spot. Works such as this, together with the view of Seaton Sluice (TG1088), therefore have a claim to being the first examples of a new kind of commodity, what I have termed the colour sketch–studio work.

1797 - 1798

Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast


1796 - 1797

Seaton Sluice


(?) 1796

Warkworth Hermitage



Pegwell Bay, near Ramsgate


1796 - 1797

Seaton Sluice


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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