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Works Thomas Girtin

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1077: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 39.2 × 55.1 cm, 15 ⅜ × 21 ¾ in. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (P.33-1928).

Photo courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
39.2 × 55.1 cm, 15 ⅜ × 21 ¾ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir (TG1076)
Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir; An Unidentified Hilly Landscape (TG1078)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
159ii as 'Durham Cathedral'; '1798'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Walker’s Galleries, London; bought from them, 1928

Exhibition History

Walker’s Galleries, 1928, no.38, 450 gns; Manchester, 1975, no.17; Newcastle, 1982, no.82; London, 2002, no.53


V&A, 1929, p.48; Dickey, 1931, p.169; Hardie, 1934, p.14; Anonymous, 1948, p.176; Mayne, 1949, p.98; Williams, 1952, p.107; Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, p.6, p.17; Lambourne and Hamilton, 1980, p.151; Brett, 1984, p.107; Hackney, 1990, p.47; Kriz, 1997, fig.15

About this Work

This finely preserved watercolour is the earlier of two views of Durham Cathedral and Castle taken from below the weir looking south east (the other being TG1078) that were executed from a monochrome study (TG1076) made on Girtin’s first independent tour, to the northern counties and Scottish Borders in 1796. The view was taken from further downriver than in the classic close-up scene Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear (TG1074), so that the castle and cathedral now rise up in one mass, with the crossing tower appearing as though part of the fortress’s defences. From this angle, elements of the companion view, such as Framwellgate Bridge and the waterfront buildings, contribute to a composition that locates the castle–cathedral complex within a broader landscape, with the essentially rural character of the near bank forming a contrast with the crowd of buildings opposite, which seem to have grown organically from the rocky outcrop overlooking the river. The result is close to another watercolour produced from a sketch made on the 1796 trip, Richmond Castle and Bridge, from the River Swale (TG1797), which I have dated to around 1797. This watercolour may be from a little later, but it shares many of the same stylistic features of the works that Girtin made in the year or so following his trip to the northern counties, including a closer view of Durham Castle and Cathedral also taken from the river Wear (TG1075). That work is slightly smaller and was therefore probably not conceived as part of a pair with this watercolour, but it shares the same palette and likewise depicts a sunny effect in which the image of military power is rendered in a benevolent light. In this case, Girtin followed the distribution of light that he recorded on the spot in his monochrome sketch to create a morning scene, with the sun coming from the north east. This more distant view of Durham castle and cathedral shares another arguably immature feature with a different Richmond view (TG1067); the reflection of the tower in the river is similarly implausible from this viewpoint.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support Girtin employed as a coarse laid strong wrapping paper by an unknown English manufacturer, worked on the wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture (Smith, 2002b, p.79; Bower, Report). The drawing has been laid on a later nineteenth-century mount, which, in turn, has been covered by a modern window mount that partly obscures the artist’s signature to the left.

1799 - 1800

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


(?) 1796

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir



Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


1801 - 1802

A Farm beyond a Field


1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


1796 - 1797

Richmond Castle and Town, from the South East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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