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Works Thomas Girtin

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir

(?) 1796

Primary Image: TG1076: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir, (?) 1796, pen and ink and watercolour on wove paper, 17.8 × 24.1 cm, 7 × 9 ½ in. Private Collection, Norfolk (I-E-28).

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir
(?) 1796
Medium and Support
Pen and ink and watercolour on wove paper
17.8 × 24.1 cm, 7 × 9 ½ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; River Scenery

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir (TG1077)
Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir; An Unidentified Hilly Landscape (TG1078)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
159i as 'Durham Cathedral'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and April 2022


David Cox (1783–1859); then by descent to Hannah Cox (1840–1909); bought from her by Augustus Joel Walker (1868–1965); Walker's Galleries, London; bought by Sir Hickman Bacon (1855–1945), 2 December 1904, £40; then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 1934b, no.1193; Gainsborough, 1954, no.19; Birmingham, 1993, no.105


Davies, 1924, p.26; described in Tax-Exempt Heritage Assets list as 'Attributed to Thomas Girtin' (Accessed 15/09/2022)

About this Work

View of Durham, with the Castle, Cathedral, and Framwellgate Bridge

This sketch of Durham from the river Wear, looking south with the castle and cathedral rising in one mass on the hill overlooking the scene, appears to have been made in 1796 on Girtin’s first independent sketching tour. Only one of the twenty or so pencil drawings and on-the-spot colour sketches that survive from the trip is dated, but it is still broadly possible to trace Girtin’s progress through Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and the Scottish Borders from the titles of the works that he sent to the 1797 Royal Academy exhibition, and from the dated watercolours that were subsequently produced from these and other untraced sketches. In this case, neither of the two watercolours that Girtin executed from his sketch is dated (TG1077 and TG1078), but stylistically they must have been made around 1797–98 and 1799–1800 respectively. Given that the artist is not known to have revisited Durham, they appear to have been made from a sketch from a couple of years earlier. Both of the studio watercolours are close to the tinted sketch of Durham, and a striking similarity between the source and the finished work is indeed a feature of the studies made on the 1796 tour. Only a handful of them were not used as the basis for studio watercolours, and it is clear that Girtin carefully selected views that would make powerful compositions. Thus, unlike his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), one of whose sketches of Durham shows a similar view to this that did not result in a finished work (see figure 1), Girtin did not make numerous drawings as a way of getting to know a subject. The act of sketching for him was therefore just as much a matter of composing as it was of recording the details of a site.

The on-the-spot drawings Girtin made on the 1796 trip are divided roughly equally between outlines in graphite and coloured sketches, with the latter further split between those that employ monochrome only and others using a fuller palette. As in the comparable study of the interior of the ruined Lindisfarne Abbey (TG1105), Girtin here used a simple range of tones to capture the play of light and shade in a way that is not possible in an outline drawing. In this case, a wash of ink added to an outline made in pen and ink records the effect of a morning scene, with the sun coming from the north east, and this is broadly preserved in the final watercolour. The fact that Girtin only occasionally sketched in monochrome in this way can be accounted for by the fact that the light conditions that prevailed as he was working to record a scene would not always make a suitable effect in a finished watercolour. This conclusion presupposes, of course, that the work was done on the spot and not fabricated in the studio for sale. The presence of a signature on the sketch does indeed suggest that the artist sold it at some point. However, whilst it is perfectly possible that the similarity between the study and the two watercolour versions of the composition stems from all three works sharing a common source in a lost pencil outline, on balance, the evidence suggests that this work was produced on the spot to capture a specific effect.

1797 - 1798

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir


1799 - 1800

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir; An Unidentified Hilly Landscape


(?) 1796

Lindisfarne: An Interior View of the Ruins of the Priory Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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