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Works Thomas Girtin after Edward Dayes

Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear


Primary Image: TG0228: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) after Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear, 1795, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 26.5 × 39.6 cm, 10 ⅜ × 15 ½ in. Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne (B8005).

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Durham Cathedral, from the River, 1789, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, on an original mount, 17 × 23 cm, 6 ¾ × 9 in. Wordsworth Grasmere (2015.15.2).

Photo courtesy of The Wordsworth Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
26.5 × 39.6 cm, 10 ⅜ × 15 ½ in

‘T. Girtin ‘95’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
110 as 'Durham Cathedral'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Harold Hill; bought by the Museum, 1913

Exhibition History

Newcastle, 1957, no.30, catalogue untraced; Newcastle, 1982, no.74; Newcastle, 1993, no.33; London, 2002, no.52


Brown, 2014, p.496

About this Work

Durham Cathedral

This view of Durham Cathedral from the river below Framwellgate Bridge is signed and dated 1795 and therefore predates Girtin’s first and only visit to the city in the following year. As with another watercolour showing Durham Cathedral, dating from 1790 (TG0012), Girtin based his composition on a work by his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), who made a sepia sketch of this view during or following his 1789 visit (see the source image above). Girtin follows Dayes’ drawing closely, including details such as the scaffolding on the southern of the cathedral’s western towers, the smoke issuing from the riverside cottage and even the direction of the shadows cast by the bushes on the riverbank. There is, however, a possibility that Girtin worked from the studio watercolour that Dayes produced from his own sketch (see figure 1), which may have been the work exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1795 as ‘Durham Cathedral and Castle’. The two watercolours are the same size and Girtin repeats the figure group of two fishermen in the punt with a boatman who is included Dayes’ studio watercolour but not shown in the sepia sketch. Comparisons with earlier Girtin watercolours produced from Dayes’ compositions when the young artist was still working in his studio – such as a 1790 Durham view (TG0012) or Rochester Castle, from the River Medway (TG0057) – illustrate just how unusual this work is. By 1795 Girtin had probably been working outside Dayes’ studio for a couple of years so that whilst his style had jettisoned most of the elements he had inherited from his master, he actually copied this composition with a fidelity that we do not find in his apprentice works. However, areas such as the water, with its bold patterns and impossible but attractively decorative reflections, have more in common with the views that he produced after his 1796 trip, such as Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir (TG1077) than the earlier versions of Dayes’ compositions. This is the only watercolour that Girtin is known to have dated in 1795 and perhaps this points to the nature of the exercise: a demonstration of the fact that even if he still relied on the compositions of Dayes to complete what was probably a commission, the characteristic bold economy of his mature style was already partly in place and clearly distinguishable from the manner of his master.

The location of the cathedral and the castle on a rocky spur above the river Wear afforded travellers and artists alike a wide range of picturesque views, and Dayes exhibited three Durham views at the Royal Academy in the early 1790s. The Revd Richard Warner (1763–1857) explained the attractions of the walks that follow the bends along the river and that command ‘singular and interesting peeps at the city and its august ornaments’. The writer of popular walking guides was particularly taken with one view that combined ‘trees and buildings, water and rock’ to create an impression of ‘inconceivable majesty’, and it was just these qualities that Dayes’ compositions were calculated to realise and that presumably encouraged Girtin to make his own visit to Durham in 1796 (Warner, 1802, pp.293–94).


Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear



Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear


(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway


1797 - 1798

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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