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Works Thomas Girtin

Easby Abbey, from the River Swale

1797 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1058: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Easby Abbey, from the River Swale, 1797–1799, watercolour on laid paper, 26.7 × 41.3 cm, 10 ½ × 16 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Easby Abbey, from the River Swale
1797 - 1799
Medium and Support
Watercolour on laid paper
26.7 × 41.3 cm, 10 ½ × 16 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

Easby Abbey, from the River Swale (TG1059)
Easby Abbey, from the River Swale (TG1060)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Thos. Agnew & Sons; Isabella C. Meredyth; her sale, Sotheby’s, 19 March 1970, lot 80 as 'A Ruined Abbey on the Banks of a River'; bought by 'Birch', £70

About this Work

This view of the west range of St Agatha’s Abbey at Easby on the river Swale, one of two versions of the composition (TG1059), was probably made after a sketch that Girtin executed on his first tour to the northern counties, in 1796, when he is known to have visited the nearby town of Richmond. The riverside scene is a telling example of the artist’s changing priorities in the year or so immediately following his 1796 visit to Yorkshire, whereby he chose to show the relatively nondescript part of the ruins that contained the abbey’s guest house over the architecturally more impressive ivy-clad remains of the fourteenth-century refectory, which is almost totally obscured by a lumpish modern cottage in the foreground. Girtin’s viewpoint appears to be on the other side of the river, but, as David Hill has shown in relation to a comparable view by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (see figure 1), it is actually on the near bank just before a bend in the river, which generates a broad uninterrupted foreground of water (Hill, 1996, p.42). In a composition that is equally about the river scenery and the landscape setting as its ostensibly antiquarian subject, Girtin was therefore able to lavish as much attention on the reflections in the water as on the buildings and their attendant vegetation. Turner’s watercolour usefully helps to illustrate the way in which Girtin changed the line of the water and pushed the cottage closer to the ruins in order to achieve the effect he was looking for, with the humble building apparently dwarfing the ruins beyond and the river uniting the various elements of the composition.

St Agatha's Abbey, Easby, Yorkshire

This watercolour is only known from a black and white photograph and consequently it has not been possible to establish its date beyond a general estimate of 1797–99. Considering that the work was not engraved, it is surprising to find that there is at least one other copy of the composition in existence (TG1060). The watercolour, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is listed as by an unknown nineteenth-century copyist, but for a long time was thought to be an autograph work by Girtin, and it has therefore been catalogued separately. Another version of the composition (TG1059) has also been described as by a ‘follower’ and was not included by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak in their catalogue (Girtin and Loshak, 1954). However, having recently had the chance to view the work it has now been catalogued as being by Girtin himself and appears as a separate entry.

1797 - 1798

Easby Abbey, from the River Swale


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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