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Works Thomas Girtin

Harewood House, from the South West

(?) 1801

Primary Image: TG1547: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Harewood House, from the South West, (?) 1801, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on paper, 62.9 × 95.9 cm, 24 ¾ × 37 ¾ in. Harewood House (HHTP:2001.2.24).

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 West
(?) 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on paper
62.9 × 95.9 cm, 24 ¾ × 37 ¾ 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
435 as 'Harewood House'; '1801 (possibly started 1798).'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Edward Lascelles (1764–1814); then by descent to Henry Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824–92); his sale, possibly Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 22 as 'View of Harewood House, Yorkshire'; bought by 'Palser', 15 gns; J. Palser & Sons; bought by Edward Cohen (1817–86), 1858 (lent to London, 1875); then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); J. Palser & Sons; bought by Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882–1947), 21 March 1927; then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.106; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.66; Leeds, 1958, no.56; Manchester, 1975, no.84; Harewood, 1999, no.11


Borenius, 1936, no.307; Mayne, 1949, p.105; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.78–79; Hill, 1984a, p.29, p.31; Morris, 1987b, p.17; Hill, 1995, pp.33–34; 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 west and south east respectively (the other being TG1548). 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 lamentable loss of the blues and greys in the sky and the muting of the fresh greens of the vegetation, so that much of the sense of depth has disappeared, 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 comparative images TG1548 figure 1 and 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 West

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 west was conceived by Lascelles as a chance for Girtin, if not to improve upon the watercolour painted by Turner in 1797, then at least to offer something rather different. Girtin actually tried out a similar view to Turner’s in a sketch showing the mansion rising above the lake, which is dated 1800 (TG1603). However, the artist rejected this option and moved much further away, so that his large watercolour all but dispenses with the house as the focus of the composition, and the carefully landscaped setting seen in Turner’s view is replaced by large areas of woodland from which two extensive fields appear to have been carved out. This, it is implied, is a working landscape where fields are ploughed and corn is reaped by an industrious peasantry under the lightest of yokes, exemplified by the distant sunlit mansion. The end result is not altogether satisfactory, however, and though this is no doubt partly down to the work’s badly altered condition (which seems all the more evident in this sunny view than in its more dramatic pair), it may also reflect our increasing awareness that the source of the immense wealth of the Lascelles family depended less on agricultural activities on their Yorkshire estate and more on their sugar plantations in the West Indies. Simon Smith’s study Slavery, Family and Gentry Capitalism in the British Atlantic: The World of the Lascelles, 1648–1834 (Smith, 2006), together with the Lascelles Slavery Archive, published by the University of York, has made it impossible to view scenes such as this as simple records of a country house set within a benevolent natural world. 

Given Lascelles’ view on the relative merits of the two artists, it comes as something of a surprise that he does not appear to have been altogether happy with Girtin’s views of Harewood, 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. 

Henry, Second Earl of Harewood

Girtin’s watercolour was lent to Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830) in June 1822 to aid him in the painting of the background of his portrait Henry, Second Earl of Harewood (see figure 2). Henry (1767–1841) stood in the 1807 election as the Tory candidate for Yorkshire, opposing the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759–1833).


(?) 1801

Harewood House, from the South East



A Distant View of Knaresborough, from the South East


1800 - 1801

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough



Harewood House, from the South West


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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