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Works Thomas Girtin

Denbigh Castle and the Vale of Clwyd

(?) 1798

Primary Image: TG1337: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Denbigh Castle and the Vale of Clwyd, (?) 1798, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 15.7 × 26.4 cm, 6 ⅛ × 10 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.49).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Denbigh Castle and the Vale of Clwyd
(?) 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
15.7 × 26.4 cm, 6 ⅛ × 10 ⅜ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
357 as 'Denbigh Castle'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1975, no.66; London, 1985, no.81a; London, 2002, no.122 as ’Denbigh Castle, North Wales’; Beijing, 2007, no.1.39


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.2; Davies, 1924, pl.65 as 'A View near Denbigh'; Mayne, 1949, p.93; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.40; Lyles, 1984, pp.6–7

About this Work

This on-the-spot colour sketch, looking past the ruins of Denbigh Castle to the Vale of Clywd, was made on Girtin’s visit to North Wales in the summer of 1798. His two earlier views of the castle ruins were made after a drawing by his early patron James Moore (1762–99) (TG0133 and TG0161), and they concentrate on the thirteenth-century gatehouse built for Edward I (1239–1307). However, when he came to visit the site in person in 1798, Girtin turned away from the ruins to look out over ‘the rich and Luxurious Vale of Clwyd’, minimising any interest that the subject might have held for antiquarians such as Moore, as the few remaining signs of the ruins are barely differentiated from their rocky foundations (Porter, 1799, f.99). During the latter part of his career, the artist often adopted unusual viewpoints when visiting popular tourist sites or architectural monuments, but in this case he may simply have reflected a wider dissatisfaction with the fragmentary ruins of the castle at Denbigh as a picturesque object, certainly in comparison with the fertile valley beyond. Joseph Hucks (1772–1800), for instance, noted that they did not stir a suitable ‘mournful … melancholy’, and he had to return in moonlight to make the experience memorable (Hucks, 1795, p.44), whilst John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington (1743–1813), also concentrated on ‘the noble views over the vale’ from the hill (Torrington, Diaries, vol.1, p.172).

Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak dated the sketch to 1800 and a second, putative visit to Wales, on the grounds that colour studies such as this were ‘too advanced in style to have been done in 1798’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.40 and 183). The realisation that the very comparable colour sketch of Mynydd Mawr (TG1327) must have been painted in 1798, following the discovery of a dated finished version (TG1328), has surely put an end to such speculation about a second trip, though the idea that this work is marked by a greater sophistication still has some merit. This is certainly one of Girtin’s most complex on-the-spot sketches, with as many as ten different tones employed by the artist. In places the washes have been superimposed up to three times, and on each occasion Girtin would have had to wait for the drawing to dry before continuing to work on that area. Still, there are plenty of signs that the sketch was made on the spot, including a fingerprint left by the artist in the lower centre, and the clouds, in particular, are worked with Girtin’s customary urgency, as he strove to keep up with the fast-changing effect of a broken sky partially illuminating the landscape below. This was not the last part of the work to be completed, however. An area of foliage to the left shows the blue of the sky showing through, and it was therefore clearly added later. How much later is impossible to determine, but, as with the similarly carefully worked sketch A Bridge over the Glaslyn, near Beddgelert (TG1325), there is a possibility that Girtin added further touches in the studio, presumably to make the work a more saleable commodity.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a buff-grey laid wrapping paper, made by an unknown English manufacturer and worked by the artist on his favoured wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture (Smith, 2002b, p.158; Bower, Report). This is the same paper that Girtin used for the view of Mynydd Mawr (another Welsh view coloured on the spot) as well as the unidentified A View of Hills and a River (TG1336), which may consequently also be identified as showing a scene in North Wales.

1792 - 1793

The Gatehouse, Denbigh Castle


1793 - 1794

The Gatehouse, Denbigh Castle


(?) 1798

Pont Seiont, Looking towards Mynydd Mawr (Big Mountain)



Pont Seiont, Looking towards Mynydd Mawr (Big Mountain)


(?) 1798

A Bridge over the Glaslyn, near Beddgelert


(?) 1798

A View of Hills and a River, Probably in North Wales


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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