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Works Thomas Girtin

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1075: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear, 1796–97, graphite, watercolour and gum arabic on laid paper, 37.5 × 49.5 cm, 14 ¾ × 19 ½ in. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2010.35).

Photo courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum, Open Content Program (CC BY 4.0)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear
Date
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and gum arabic on laid paper
Dimensions
37.5 × 49.5 cm, 14 ¾ × 19 ½ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; River Scenery

Collection
Versions
Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear (TG1073)
Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear (TG1074)
Catalogue Number
TG1075
Girtin & Loshak Number
158ii as 'Durham Cathedral'; '1797-8'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2010

Provenance

Edward Hawke Locker (1777–1849) (lent to SPWC, 1823); his sale, Christie’s, 15 June 1844, lot 466; bought by 'Vaughan', £11 0s 6d; Henry Vaughan (1809–99) (lent to Manchester, 1857; London, 1862; London, 1871; London, 1875); John Lewis Roget (1828–1908) (lent to London, 1905; London, 1908); then by descent to J. R. Roget; his sale, Sotheby’s, 12 March 1987, lot 67, £81,400; Professor Ian Craft (1937–2019); his sale, Sotheby’s, 14 July 2010, lot 70, £265,250; bought by the Museum

Exhibition History

SPWC, 1823, no.40 as ’Durham’; Manchester, 1857, no.82; London, 1862, no.841; London, 1871, no.123; London, 1875, no.38; Fine Art Society, 1901, no.11; London, 1905, no.2; London, 1908b, no.231; Manchester, 1912, no.33 or no.86; Agnew’s, 1931, no.102; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.97; London, 2002, no.54; Los Angeles, 2011, no.9

Bibliography

Davies, 1924, p.21, pl.76; Mayne, 1949, p.43; Hawcroft, 1975, p.32; Morris, 1987b, p.20; Roach, 2012, p.413

About this Work

Durham Cathedral and Castle

This finely preserved watercolour is the earlier of two views of Durham Cathedral and Castle taken from the river Wear (the other being TG1074) that were executed from a pencil sketch (TG1073) made on Girtin’s first independent tour, to the northern counties and Scottish Borders in 1796. Girtin’s viewpoint from low down next to the weir adjacent to Framwellgate Bridge owes much to the example of his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). Dayes’ view Rochester Castle, from the River Medway (see TG0057 figure 1) provided the model for Girtin’s early watercolour of the town (TG0057), and this in turn formed the basis for the composition here. From this low and oblique angle, the double arch of the bridge forms a solid base from which the twin symbols of Church and State rise up with a presence that matches the commanding location of the castle and cathedral on a rock above the river Wear. It is intriguing to note that when Turner visited Durham a year later, in 1797, he adopted exactly the same viewpoint to make the pencil drawing (see TG1073 figure 1) from which he too was to produce a major watercolour (see figure 1). As David Hill has argued, Turner seems to have consulted Girtin’s 1796 sketches before embarking on his tour, and he followed Girtin’s viewpoint on a number of other occasions (Hill, 1996, pp.4–5). The slight variation in what can be seen in the two views may be accounted for, as Tim Wilcox has drawn my attention to, by the fact that Girtin customarily sat to make his sketches, whilst Turner stood. The fact that Turner’s view shows more of the Galilee Chapel, at the west end of the cathedral, may have had a further significance because it was then at the centre of a fierce controversy relating to James Wyatt’s (1746–1813) restoration programme, which, if carried out in full, would have seen its destruction. John Carter (1748–1817) led an ultimately successful campaign against the proposal, but concern over the fate of the great Norman building might have been part of the motivation for the production of Girtin’s Durham view, especially if, as seems likely, it was commissioned before the artist set out on his trip to the north east in 1796.

The evidence that the earlier of the two watercolour views of the cathedral and castle was produced immediately after the 1796 trip, and to a commission, is circumstantial, but it adds up nonetheless. Particularly striking is the relationship between the watercolour and the original pencil sketch (TG1073), from which the former barely departs. The on-the-spot study is carefully composed and unusually large in scale (21.6 × 32.8 cm, 8 ½ × 12 ⅞ in), and, given that it meticulously notes the positions of all the buildings and their architectural details, it amounts to an investment of time that would not have made sense if Girtin had not had a commission to paint a particular view. This, one can readily imagine, was stipulated by a patron with antiquarian interests and a knowledge of a site that was much appreciated in those circles. The stylistic evidence also points to a relatively early date, comparable with, say, the view of Egglestone Abbey (TG1070), which employs a similar palette and is equally unchanged by the passage of time. Shared features – such as the way that the cathedral and castle are boldly lit, leaving the more humble buildings in the shade, and the not altogether satisfactory treatment of the turbulent water in the foreground – therefore suggest a date of around 1797 for both works.

The first owner of this work, Edward Hawke Locker (1777–1849), lent it and Rievaux Abbey (TG1056) to the pioneering loan exhibition of 'Drawings by British Artists' organised by the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1823 (Exhibitions: SPWC, 1823). Locker made a fine copy of Rievaux Abbey as early as 1802 (see TG1056 figure 1) suggesting that he acquired that work at least directly from the artist and it may be that both were commissioned from Girtin. Sometime in the 1830s Locker created a pair of hand-held screens in the form of outline keys showing the position of the framed works then hanging in the 'DINING ROOM' and the 'DRAWING ROOM' of his quarters at Greenwich Hospital (see TG0306 figure 2). A work listed as 'Durham Cathedral' takes pride of place above the fireplace on the south side of the drawing room flanked by others by Francis Nicholson (1753–1844) and John Sell Cotman (1782–1842) in a crowded hang of close-framed watercolours that also includes views identified as 'Malvern Priory' and 'Edgar's Tower Worcester' by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (Roach, 2012, p.413).1 Many of the watercolours are shown in quite ornate frames and Locker’s wall plans provide significant evidence of the way in which Girtin’s works were commonly presented as part of a carefully organised decorative display of the modern school of British landscape watercolours with a strong emphasis on the nation’s medieval heritage.

1799

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear

TG1074

(?) 1796

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear

TG1073

(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway

TG0057

(?) 1796

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear

TG1073

1796 - 1797

Egglestone Abbey, from the River Tees

TG1070

(?) 1798

Rievaulx Abbey

TG1056

(?) 1798

Rievaulx Abbey

TG1056

1795 - 1796

The Gateway of Great Malvern Priory

TG0306

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  1. 1 The works by Turner and Girtin subsequently appeared in Locker’s sale in 1844 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 15 June 1844). The view of Malvern Priory is now in a private collection (see TG0306 source image) and the scene at Worcester is owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields (55.23).

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