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Works Thomas Girtin

Ilkley, from the River Wharfe

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1673: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Ilkley, from the River Wharfe, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 30.5 × 51.8 cm, 12 × 20 ⅜ in. Leeds Art Gallery (5.113/52).

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, Leeds City Art Gallery (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Ilkley, from the River Wharfe
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
30.5 × 51.8 cm, 12 × 20 ⅜ in

‘Mr Lascelles’ on the back, possibly by Thomas Girtin, but not seen

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; The Village; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
442 as 'Ilkley, Yorkshire'; '1801'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and February 2020


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 46 as 'A river scene'; bought by 'Palser', 19 gns; J. Palser & Sons; Edward Cohen (1817–86); then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); J. Palser & Sons as 'Landscape (Lascelles)'; bought by Norman Lupton, 17 November 1926; Agnes Lupton (1874–1950) and Norman Darnton Lupton (1875–1953); bequeathed to the Gallery, 1952

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.88 as ’Landscape in Sepia’; Agnew’s, 1931, no.129 as ’Ilkley’; Leeds, 1937, no.18; Bournemouth, 1949, no.30 (catalogue untraced); Agnew’s, 1953a, no.67 as ’Ilkley’; London, 1960, no.68; Leeds, 1972, no.36; Manchester, 1975, no.88; London, 1993, no.150; Leeds, 1995, no.39; Harewood, 1999, no.20; London, 2002, no.165


Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.78; Bury, 1960, pp.14–15

About this Work

This sadly faded watercolour, showing a view of Ilkley from the north bank of the river Wharfe, was owned by Girtin’s key late patron Edward Lascelles (1764–1814). It formed part of a highly significant group of Yorkshire scenes that Lascelles commissioned from Girtin around 1800 and that were based on sketches the artist made on one of his trips to stay with his patron at the family home at Harewood. Ilkley is twenty-five kilometres west of Harewood, and so the subject was no doubt sketched on the way to or from Bolton Abbey, which features in another of the commissions (TG1554), as was the famous Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe (TG1685), which shows an adjacent view, albeit one that omits the riverside ruins. The picturesque qualities of the river Wharfe in its upper reaches were well known at the time, but Girtin, perhaps with the aid of his patron, was unusual in seeing the potential of Ilkley as a subject.1 This meant combining two distinct subject types: a bleak and hilly landscape with a high horizon, and the stock elements of a picturesque village scene. However, the latter, spread over the middle ground of the composition and seen across a featureless foreground, are particularly unconventional, with the buildings strung out without any overt pictorial hierarchy. All Saints’ Church and the Manor House (seen to the left) are thus kept in deep shade and are cut arbitrarily, whilst the sun picks out the humbler structure to the right. Broad, featureless banks cut into the view of the village, denying the gentle connections that we expect from a picturesque scene, where the buildings typically form an organic unity, symbolic of social cohesion. Neither the bleak view of Ilkley Moor in the distance, against which the buildings are silhouetted, nor the austere foreground do anything to mitigate against the sense of dislocation displayed in what, despite the standard landscape proportions of the paper, is essentially a panoramic composition. Indeed, the way in which the view as a whole seems to have been arbitrarily cut from a larger scene is reminiscent of one of the studies for the Eidometropolis, which the artist was working on in 1801 (TG1851), and I am tempted by the thought that this highly unconventional scene might have been as much a consequence of Girtin’s work on the London panorama as an engagement with the river scenery of Yorkshire. Indeed, was Girtin even aware that the Manor House was situated along the boundary of the Roman fort and that the site might also have held (for a well-informed visitor) a potent set of associations? 

There is a danger, of course, that such a reading is determined by the work’s faded and discoloured condition, which perhaps inevitably evokes a bleak and sombre mood. Thus, a broken sky of blue, mixed with a range of greys in the clouds, has changed to a reddy brown, and the green tones of the riverbanks and the moorland, which cover two-thirds of the composition, have become so muted that the work was described as early as 1875 as a 'Landscape in Sepia’ when it was exhibited at the Girtin centenary exhibition (Exhibitions: London, 1875, no.88). No doubt the watercolour was shown in strong light when it hung on the walls at the Lascelles townhouse at Hanover Square, London, and this facilitated the fading process, but fundamentally it was Girtin’s choice of fugitive pigments, used in multiple thin washes, that caused the problem. Just two evanescent blue and yellow pigments – probably indigo and gamboge, if used exclusively for the blues of the sky, the greens of the vegetation, and the greys of the clouds – would have been enough to account for much of the drastic deterioration seen here. To get a sense of the work’s original appearance, we need to turn to a relatively unaffected watercolour, such as Morpeth Bridge (TG1709). In comparison with that work, the small figures shown here have almost disappeared, and this further heightens the sombre mood of the whole. These were added at the last moment, since underlying washes show through some, whilst others have been added over areas scratched out from the wash, so perhaps there was originally a greater sense of community to the view. Indeed, in its original state, it may have been possible to have interpreted this image of a village below a moor in rather different terms: a triumph of culture in unpromising circumstances.

1800 - 1801

On the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey


1800 - 1801

Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe, near Bolton Abbey


(?) 1801

The Albion Mills: Colour Study for the ‘Eidometropolis’, Section One


(?) 1802

Morpeth Bridge


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The only other early depiction of Ilkley that I have been able to find, by Amos Green (1735–1807) working in 1803, shows a more conventional picturesque river view with two of the arches of the bridge dominating the scene (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1981.25.2111)).

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