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Works Thomas Girtin

Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1589: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (possibly with a discoloured fixative), 11.5 × 17.6 cm, 4 ½ × 6 ⅞ in. Private Collection, Hertfordshire.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (possibly with a discoloured fixative)
11.5 × 17.6 cm, 4 ½ × 6 ⅞ in

'Knaresborough' on the back, by (?) Thomas Girtin

Part of
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Yorkshire View; River Scenery

Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough (TG1549)
Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough (TG1550)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in March 2022


Possibly George Hibbert (1757–1837); then by descent

About this Work

This view of a stretch of the river Nidd near Knaresborough is one of seven surviving sketches that Girtin executed in the vicinity of the picturesquely located town on his visit to Yorkshire in the summer of either 1799 or 1800 (the others being TG1509, TG1510, TG1511, TG1512, TG1539 and TG1542). Each of the drawings was executed on a piece of wove paper of roughly the same vertical dimensions, and there is some evidence that they were removed from a sketchbook, though when, and by whom, is not clear. Two other drawings on the same paper have matching holes, which suggests that they had been bound into a book (TG1508a and TG1525). One of these sketches – Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (TG1525) – is missing a small section, which, as a later copy indicates (TG1601), must have strayed onto the opposite page. It seems that on just this one occasion Girtin did execute his sketches in a book, though, as the paper historian Peter Bower has argued, it is unlikely that this was made commercially, and it may be that the artist himself assembled sheets of paper into a convenient gathering, which would account for slight variations in their size (Bower, 2002, p.141). Whatever the case, this sheet is likely to have featured amongst the ‘180 Sketches’ or ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’ that the artist’s brother, John Girtin (1773–1821), recorded taking possession of following the artist’s death in November 1802 and that he subsequently sold on (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1

The sketch was used as the basis for a finished watercolour known, until the discovery of this sketch during the final stages of the production of this online catalogue, only as ‘An Unidentified River Scene’ (TG1550). This is hardly surprising as the view includes little in the way of specific topographical information other than a few nondescript buildings on a stretch of river with an insignificant weir. Fortunately, the drawing is inscribed ‘Knaresborough’ on the back, and that makes the identification of the scene feasible, even though my first thought – that it shows a view near to the Abbey Mill, the subject of the best known of Girtin’s river Nidd watercolours (TG1672) – proved untenable. Instead, Professor David Hill has suggested that, although the view along the river Nidd is indeed looking upstream, the most likely option would put Girtin’s viewpoint roughly a kilometre downstream from the castle at Knaresborough (email dated 15 January 2022), so that the weir shown in the sketch is the ‘Chapman’s Mill Dam’ marked on the 1854 Ordnance Survey map (Yorkshire Sheet 154). At that time, the dam was linked to a dye works. Though it is not known whether this dated back to Girtin’s time, there is a good chance that the sketch and the watercolour are related more closely to the textile industry than could have been appreciated before the discovery of the sketch.

The colour washes on this work, as well as a number of the other studies made on the river Nidd, are quite crude in places and they lack the economy of means that I associate with Girtin’s colouring on the spot. Indeed, at one time I seriously considered the possibility that the washes of watercolour on similar sketches were added subsequently to an outline drawing by another hand – and, given that the artist’s brother had access to the ‘Sketches’ left behind in the studio at his death, it is not impossible that it was he who was responsible in an effort to make the works more saleable. However, the same argument can be made in favour of Girtin’s authorship, and I now suspect that the colouring, including the skyscape, was added by him in the studio to an on-the-spot outline drawing to enhance the impression of a sketch worked from nature, something that might have had an extra appeal to supportive collectors of his work.

1799 - 1800

Grimbald Bridge, near Knaresborough


1799 - 1800

A Crag on the River Nidd


1799 - 1800

Knaresborough Castle, from the High Bridge


1799 - 1800

Bilton Banks, on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough


1799 - 1800

Knaresborough, from the North West


1799 - 1800

Knaresborough, Looking across Bilton Banks


1799 - 1800

Cottages at Hawes, from Gayle Beck


1799 - 1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea


1799 - 1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea


(?) 1801

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea



Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough


1800 - 1801

The Abbey Mill, near Knaresborough


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Details are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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