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Works Thomas Girtin

Harewood House, from the South East

(?) 1801

Primary Image: TG1548: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Harewood House, from the South East, (?) 1801, graphite, watercolour, stopping out and scratching out on laid paper, 62.7 × 97.8 cm, 24 ⅝ × 38 ½ in. Harewood House (HHTP:2001.2.20).

Photo courtesy of The Earl and Countess of Harewood and Harewood House Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Harewood House, from the South East
(?) 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour, stopping out and scratching out on laid paper
62.7 × 97.8 cm, 24 ⅝ × 38 ½ in
Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Large Framed Work; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Country House View; The Landscape Park; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
434 as 'Harewood House'; '1801 (possibly started 1798).'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Edward Lascelles (1764–1814); then by descent to Henry Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824–92); his sale, Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 39 as 'A distant view of Harewood Park - grand effect of a stormy evening sky', 20 gns; Colonel George Sholto Gordon Douglas-Pennant, 2nd Baron Penrhyn (1836–1907); given to Lady Louisa Egerton; bought by Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882–1947), 1919; then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 1934b, no.912; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.57; Leeds, 1958, no.55; Manchester, 1975, no.83; Harewood, 1999, no.1; London, 2002, no.148


Borenius, 1936, no.306; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.78–79; Mayne, 1949, p.105; Hill, 1984a, pp.28–29, 31–32; Hill, 1995, pp.30–34, 62; Tuck, 1997, pp.396–97; Eyres, 2002, pp.204–5; Celeste, 2020, pp.87–88

About this Work

This is one of a pair of large watercolours of Harewood House in Yorkshire that Girtin completed in 1801 and that show the view from the park looking south east and south west respectively (the other being TG1547). Together with A Distant View of Knaresborough (TG1669) and Plumpton Rocks (TG1553), they were commissioned for the combined price of eighty guineas by Edward Lascelles (1764–1814), the eldest son of the house’s owner, the 1st Earl of Harewood (1740–1820). In the same letter that records the cost (dated 27 June 1801), Lascelles discussed arrangements for framing the group, so that, uniquely, we can be sure that these watercolours were designed from the outset to be displayed on the wall (Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.120). An investigation of the view from the south east has revealed how Girtin mounted the support on a stretcher, just like an oil painting, and traces of colour around the edges indicate that the artist finished the work in that state, before it was finally close-framed and then glazed to protect its surface (Hill, 1995, p.62). Unfortunately, the original frame seems to have been lost when the work left the Harewood collection following an auction in 1858 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 May 1858) – a sale, it was said, that was prompted by the significant fading that had already affected the appearance of Girtin’s watercolours (Hill, 1995, pp.30 and 55). The spectacular loss of the blues and greys in the sky and the muting of the fresh greens of the vegetation were no doubt the result of the work having been on continuous display, and this was almost certainly in Lascelles’ town house in Hanover Square, London. An inventory dating from around 1814 (Hill, 1995, p.58) lists both of Girtin’s large views of Harewood as hanging in the ‘Anti-Room’, along with other views of the house by John Varley (1778–1842) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (for the latter, see figure 1 and TG1547 figure 1). Lascelles may have been pleased to support the young landscape artists when he commissioned views of Harewood, but the results of his munificence were also calculated to display to a London audience the magnificence of the family’s country seat and its palatial setting amongst the vast extent of landscape park set out by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–83). 

Harewood House, from the South East

The juxtaposition of these watercolour views of Harewood with Turner’s earlier depictions of the house and estate in the London home of Lascelles needs to be put in the context of the patron’s keen advocacy of Girtin’s work. According to the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821), writing in early 1799, ‘Mr. Lascelles as well as Lady Sutherland are disposed to set up Girtin against Turner – who they say effects his purpose by industry – the former more genius – Turner finishes too much’ (Farington, Diary, 9 February 1799). It appears, therefore, that the commission of a second view of Harewood from the south east was conceived by Lascelles as Girtin’s chance to improve upon the watercolour painted by Turner in 1798 (see figure 1). Viewed from roughly the same position, near to the Lofthouse Gate, Girtin’s larger composition does indeed depart from Turner’s in ways calculated to overshadow his contemporary. Thus, by marginally moving the viewpoint further to the east, Girtin dispenses with the rather fussy and conventional foreground employed by Turner, and he also replaces the other artist’s broken skyscape, which conveniently lights up the distant mansion, with an altogether more dramatic sunset effect, with ominous clouds building up over the mansion. Of course, the effect of Girtin’s view has been altered by its faded condition, but there is no doubt that it offered a striking contrast to Turner’s view. However, whether Lascelles was altogether happy with the result is not clear, since the same letter from 1801 in which he agreed to the payment of eighty guineas for the four works also contained the ‘hope you have made the alterations in the Drawings of this place which I wish’d you to do’ (Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.120). Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak interpreted this to mean that the artist was asked to make changes to works begun in 1798 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.78–79); however, as David Hill has argued, their stylistic evidence for an earlier date does not stack up (Hill, 1995, p.34) and, indeed, there are no signs that Girtin altered any of the drawings before he ‘returned them to the house in Hanover Square’ (Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.120). If the changes were either of a topographical nature or related to the detail of the architecture, Girtin presumably calculated that they were unnecessary for a London audience without the means to test his views against their actual appearance. If the objection was to something as significant as a threatening cloud hanging over the patron’s country seat, then Lascelles would have had to accept what was given (given that the watercolour medium does not allow for wholesale changes), with the consolation that although the setting may threaten to dwarf the house, the grandeur of the landscape was a suitable corollary to his family’s wealth and power as well as being a monument to a superior taste that appreciated something more challenging than a simple topographical portrait. 

Harewood House, from the South East

A smaller watercolour, with the same title and attributed to Girtin, appeared at a sale in 1964 (see figure 2) (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 20 November 1964, lot 18). This reappeared a year later with an attribution to Turner, but it has not been seen in public since and is known only through a poor-quality black and white photograph (Exhibitions: Agnew’s, 1965, no.36). The view of the house amongst the parkland is from the same direction as Turner’s watercolour, though from a little closer; whether or not it is also by him is difficult to ascertain, and the same is true of the earlier attribution of the work to Girtin. However, the exaggerated form of Almscliffe Crag in the distance suggests that this may be the work of an unknown amateur.

(?) 1801

Harewood House, from the South West



A Distant View of Knaresborough, from the South East


1800 - 1801

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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