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Works Thomas Girtin

Egglestone Abbey, from the River Tees

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1070: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Egglestone Abbey, from the River Tees, 1796–97, graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and scratching out on wove paper, 33.6 × 41.8 cm, 13 ¼ × 16 ½ in. Gallery Oldham (9.88/14).

Photo courtesy of Gallery Oldham (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Egglestone Abbey, from the River Tees
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and scratching out on wove paper
33.6 × 41.8 cm, 13 ¼ × 16 ½ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; Monastic Ruins; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
234 as '1797–8'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Charles E. Lees (1840–94); presented to the Gallery, 1888

Exhibition History

London, 1908c, not in catalogue; Oldham, 1993, p.19; London, 2002, no.46


Bower, 2005, p.41

About this Work

This view of the ruins of Egglestone Abbey from the river Tees was almost certainly based on a drawing produced by the artist on his first independent tour, to the northern counties and the Scottish Borders in 1796, though the sketch itself has not been traced. The choice of viewpoint, looking up towards the thirteenth-century east end of the abbey church, emphasises the ruins’ picturesque location, but it also gives prominence to the building on the opposite bank, which was then used as a paper mill by James Cooke (1746–1800) (Bower, 1990, p.53, pp.98–99). Girtin does not give any indication that he was aware of the building’s function, though he may have sought to play down the fact, since, as one visitor noted, ‘a noisy paper mill on such a spot’ disturbs its solemn atmosphere (Torrington, Diaries, vol 3, p.68). When Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) came to paint a watercolour of exactly the same view of the abbey around 1818, he gave equal prominence to the mill and its proprietor, indicating the building’s function by depicting sheets of paper laid out to dry on the riverbank, though the latter detail was not visible in the pencil drawing of Egglestone that he made on his 1797 tour to Yorkshire (see figure 1). The drawing by Turner is of particular interest as one of as many as ten or so where he adopted exactly the same viewpoint to make a sketch as Girtin had done the year previously. So close are the two artists’ on-the-spot drawings, as well as the watercolours that were derived from them, across a range of northern subjects, that David Hill has concluded that Turner must have seen Girtin’s 1796 sketches before his own tour, and, suitably inspired, have sought out many of the same viewpoints from which to take his views (Hill, 1996, pp.4–5).

Egglestone Abbey, Seen from the River Tees

We can be reasonably sure that the watercolour was worked by Girtin soon after the 1796 trip, and indeed that it was based on a sketch made on the tour, both because of the site’s proximity to Barnard Castle, the subject of another contemporary watercolour (TG1068), and due to a stylistic naivety resulting in a lack of unity that is characteristic of some of his work at this date. This is not helped by the way that the work has faded to various degrees; thus, the sky has been left looking anaemic and the effect of the trees and vegetation on the far bank is muddied, whilst the water in the foreground, which presumably employed a less fugitive pigment, has been unaffected. Unusually for Girtin, he has scratched into the blue washes with great vigour in order to represent the turbulent flow of the water, and this further disrupts the pictorial unity of the piece. I cannot think of an equivalent passage in any other of Girtin’s works, and it has the appearance of an early experiment that did not work and was not repeated.

1796 - 1797

Barnard Castle, from the River Tees


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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