For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

Durham Cathedral, from the South West

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1079: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Durham Cathedral, from the South West, 1796–97, watercolour on paper, 45.1 × 40 cm, 17 ¾ × 15 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, Agnew's, London (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Durham Cathedral, from the South West
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Watercolour on paper
45.1 × 40 cm, 17 ¾ × 15 ¾ in

‘T. Girtin / Durham’ on the back

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

Durham Cathedral, from the South West (TG0919)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
236ii as 'Durham Cathedral'; '1797-8'
Description Source(s)
Sale Catalogue


Sir Charles Long, 1st Baron Farnborough (1760–1838) and Amelia Long, Lady Farnborough (1772–1837); then by descent to Jane Emily Dawson (née Long) (1855–1932); bought by the Squire Gallery, London at a 'Country House sale in Devon'; James Leslie Wright (1862–1954) (lent to London, 1934); then by descent to Hope Keith (Mrs Cecil Keith, née Wright) (1902–83); Thos. Agnew & Sons

Exhibition History

Squire Gallery, 1932, no.11; London, 1934b, no.731; Bucharest, 1935, no.141; Vienna, 1936, no.136; Worcester, 1938, no.35; Birmingham, 1938, no.75; Birmingham, 1939, no.193; London, 1949, no.190; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.28; Worthing, 1963, no.49; Amsterdam, 1965, no.53; Manchester, 1975, no.30; Agnew’s, 1984, no.29; Agnew’s, 1985, no.91; Agnew's, 1988, no.29


Bury, 1934, p.85; Mayne, 1949, p.106; Bury, 1956, pl.1; Bury, 1967, p.16

About this Work

Durham Cathedral, from the South West

This view of Durham Cathedral from the river Wear, with the castle and Framwellgate Bridge in the distance, is one of two versions of a composition that Girtin appears to have painted soon after returning from his first independent tour, to the northern counties and Scottish Borders in 1796 (the other being TG0919). The sketch on which the two works are based, taken from Prebends Bridge, has not been traced, however. In view of this, the possibility that they were actually copied from a composition by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), needs to be considered, not least because his drawings formed the basis for the young artist’s two earliest views of Durham (TG0012 and TG0228). Indeed, the former view by Dayes (see TG0012 figure 1) adopts a similar viewpoint, looking from the south west, whilst another of his Durham scenes also seems to have been taken from Prebends Bridge (see figure 1). However, in addition to the fact that both works by Dayes appear to date stylistically from after Girtin’s visit to Durham in 1796, there is one detail that clearly indicates that this view of the cathedral was not made from a sketch by his master. Thus, whilst the two early Girtin copies include the scaffolding around the southern of the two west towers that is shown in Dayes’ view from Prebends Bridge, which he noted in a sketch from his 1789 visit, all of Girtin’s later Durham views omit this detail as restoration work had been completed in the interim. The Dayes view also usefully points up the curious nature of the one significant difference between the two versions of Girtin’s composition, for Girtin has here added a non-existent weir, moving the structure from the other side of Framwellgate Bridge to cut the river at this point. This was possibly done to enhance the composition, though perhaps a simple pun was also intended, a weir on the river Wear being a suitable detail for an artist who was always happy to include visual jokes in his topographical views.

The watercolour was known only as a black and white photograph until the latter stages of the preparation of this catalogue and it is only now that its date to the immediate aftermath of the 1796 trip can be confirmed with a reasonable degree of confidence. The watercolour shares a number of stylistic features with works made from sketches produced on the 1796 tour, such Richmond Castle and Town (TG1067) and the earlier of the two closer views of Durham Cathedral and Castle from the river (TG1075), ranging from similar palettes to comparable treatments of the vegetation and its reflections in the water. There is one detail in particular that the work shares with a number of these early northern views; namely, the reflections of the towers in the river are impossible according to the rules of perspective and were inserted to give an added visual interest. Is it therefore another of Girtin’s jokes that one of the figures seems to point to the reflections? The other version of the composition partially repeats the error, but much less obviously so, and I take this to be a sign that it was painted slightly later. An earlier date in this case might indicate that the work was commissioned from the artist, rather than being produced for sale on the open market, and this has some support from the fact that its first owner, Amelia Long, Lady Farnborough (1772–1837), is known to have taken lessons with Girtin and had a collection containing a number of other watercolours such as The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle (TG1310).

1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral, from the South West



Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear



Durham Cathedral, from the River Wear


1796 - 1797

Richmond Castle and Town, from the South East


1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


1798 - 1799

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.