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Works Thomas Girtin

Hereford Cathedral, from across the River Wye

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1364: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Hereford Cathedral, from across the River Wye, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on paper, 38 × 49 cm, 15 × 19 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: William Pengree Sherlock (1776–c.1851), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), soft-ground etching, 'Hereford', 31 July 1811, 24.9 × 31 cm, 9 ¾ × 12 ¼ in. British Museum, London (1870,0514.1581).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Hereford Cathedral, from across the River Wye
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
38 × 49 cm, 15 × 19 ¼ in

'from Mr Leader's sale' on the back, by Charles Sackville Bale

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; River Scenery; The Welsh Borders: Herefordshire and Worcestershire

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


John Temple Leader (1810–1903); his sale, probably Christie’s, 18 March 1843, lot 58 as 'View of the old Bridge at Gloucester - evening scene'; bought by ‘Ch Hall’, £16 (presumably Chambers Hall (1786–1855) though the work cannot be linked with any in his munificent gift of Girtin's works to the British Museum); ... Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880) (lent to London, 1875); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 13 May 1881, lot 85; bought by 'Norris', £110 5s; J. Palser & Sons; ... Mrs D. M. Wardley; her sale, Sotheby’s, 19 November 1970, lot 98; bought by John Baskett, £1,700; Sir John Clermont Witt (1907–82); his widow, Lady Margaret Witt (1910–84); her posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 19 February 1987, lot 78, unsold; Thos. Agnew & Sons

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.45 as 'Hereford Cathedral, from the Banks of the Wye'; Agnew’s, 1988, no.149


Wedmore, 1876, p.116; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.208 as 'Untraced ... Hereford Cathedral, from the Banks of the Wye'

About this Work

John Walker (active 1776–1802), after Edward Dayes (1763–1804), etching and engraving, 'Hereford' for <i>The Copper-Plate Magazine</i>, vol.2, no.43, pl.85, 1 July 1795, 15 × 20 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1862,0712.832).

This sadly faded watercolour of Hereford Cathedral, looking from the south west across the river Wye, is the latest of a series of different views of the building painted by Girtin (the others being TG0070, TG0155 and TG0166). The three larger views were all created at the outset of Girtin’s career, around 1792–93, when the artist was either still apprenticed to Edward Dayes (1763–1804) or had access to his master’s drawings, for none of them are based on his own on-the-spot sketches. The young artist did not have the means to travel to Hereford and therefore depended on secondary sources for his compositions. Dayes produced a similar view of the cathedral rising above the Wye Bridge, which was published as an engraving in 1795 (see figure 1), but this is surely not the source for Girtin’s later watercolour, which is taken from a little further away and consequently shows more of the body of the church. More to the point, there is also evidence that Girtin’s watercolour was based on a more recent sketch, for, as the text that accompanies the print notes, building work had still not been completed following the fall of the cathedral’s west end in 1786, and Dayes’ view includes the scaffolding that is conspicuously absent in Girtin’s depiction.

If Girtin’s view was made from an on-the-spot sketch, the question still remains as to when a visit took place, for it is not likely that the artist would have made a special trip to the cathedral city for the sole purpose of producing a fairly modest studio watercolour. The obvious answer would be at some point during the summer of 1798, when Girtin visited North Wales. Hereford is a good way south of any other known stop on the 1798 trip, but it is just possible that the visit to Bristol, which I have dated to 1797, took place a year later as a prelude to a journey north to Wales, with Hereford on the way. The point, however, is that as is so often the case, we do not have the documentary evidence to make precise calculations about the artist’s movements, and a work like Hereford Cathedral, from across the River Wye, where Girtin’s source does not survive, might have been worked up from a drawing by another artist who did visit the city.

Hereford Cathedral, from across the River Wye

The poor condition of the watercolour poses a challenge for the modern viewer as the colour has faded throughout, leaving little more than a monochrome shadow of the original. Could it be that it once depicted an ‘evening scene’, as described in a sale from 1843, when the work was wrongly identified as showing Gloucester Cathedral? Fortunately, the work was reproduced as a soft-ground etching in 1811 (see the print after, above), and William Pearson (1772–1849) made a full-scale watercolour copy (see figure 2). However, although the latter seems to have preserved at least some of the original colouring, the bland effect does little to recapture the mood of Girtin’s original, other than to confirm the tranquillity of the scene.

1792 - 1793

Hereford Cathedral



Hereford Cathedral, from the River Wye


1792 - 1793

A Distant View of Hereford Cathedral


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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