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Works Thomas Girtin

Kirkby Malham


Primary Image: TG1690: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Kirkby Malham, 1801, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 32 × 51.5 cm, 12 ⅝ × 20 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Kirkby Malham
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
32 × 51.5 cm, 12 ⅝ × 20 ¼ in

‘Girtin 1801’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
447 as 'Bridge with a Church and Village (probably Horton, Yorks.)'
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Probably Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, later Duchess of Sutherland (1765–1839); then by descent to George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 5th Duke of Sutherland (1888–1963); his sale, Christie's, 22 October 1948, lot 10 as 'A Church with Other Buildings on a River'; bought by 'Bowden', £189; Bury Street Gallery, London, 1951; ... Sotheby’s, 10 October 1974, lot 39 as 'Horton, Yorkshire', unsold


Malhamdale, online

About this Work

This watercolour, showing the village of Kirkby Malham in Yorkshire, was incorrectly identified as depicting Horton in Ribblesdale until David Hill recognised that it was based on a drawing wrongly attributed to Henry Edridge (1768–1821) (TG1606) rather than a different pencil sketch (TG1633), as had previously been thought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak (Hill, 1999, p.58; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.195). As Hill demonstrated, the original sketch was removed from Girtin’s Book of Drawings and probably dates from 1800, when the artist visited Malhamdale to study the sublime scenery of Gordale Scar (TG1630). The resulting studio watercolour therefore depicts the view from the stone bridge over Kirkby Beck, looking to the church of St Michael the Archangel with its fine Perpendicular east window prominent. However, without the inscription on the original drawing, the incorrect title is likely to have remained, since many of the surrounding buildings have been demolished or transformed. The work is unfortunately known only from a black and white photograph and it is difficult to comment on its attribution with any great confidence. However, even from this source, it is possible to say that many of the evident weaknesses can be put down its faded condition, and the prominent signature to the left, below the characteristic figures, seems entirely authentic.

A significant part of the work’s interest lies in its provenance and, more specifically, its probable link with one of Girtin’s best-known pupils, Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, later Duchess of Sutherland (1765–1839) (Morris, 2002a, pp.256–57). The watercolour was sold in 1948 by George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 5th Duke of Sutherland (1888–1963), and it is a reasonable assumption that he inherited the work through the family from the only ancestor of his who is known to have had any association with Girtin. The evidence is far from overwhelming, but it is possible that the work was commissioned directly by Lady Sutherland, as she was known during Girtin’s lifetime. If so, she may have ordered it as a result of seeing the sketch in the Book of Drawings, as otherwise it is difficult to see how she could have known that an obscure church in Malhamdale might make a worthwhile addition to her collection. Alternatively, it may be that the watercolour is an example of a drawing that Girtin supplied to Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer, and that Gower acquired it through him, probably after the artist’s death. Again the evidence for this is slight, amounting only to the fact that the drawing conforms to the standard size of works that Reynolds valued at seven guineas each in 1801 (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1 Another watercolour, The Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey in the Distance (TG1721), may also have come from the collection of Lady Sutherland, and it too has the same dimensions.

Kirkby Malham

A full-scale copy of this work in the collection of Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery (see figure 1) may help, at least partly, to resolve the issue. The best of the full-scale copies of Girtin’s later works were almost certainly made by Reynolds himself, from watercolours that were part of his stock. However, though this example is competent, it has an amateurish feel to it. Could it therefore have been made by Lady Sutherland herself, and might this point to the watercolour being a commission from her teacher?

(?) 1800

Kirkby Malham


(?) 1800

Horton in Ribblesdale


(?) 1800

Gordale Scar Waterfall


1800 - 1801

The Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey in the Distance


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The details are contained in a letter from Reynolds to Sawrey Gilpin (1733–1807). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4).

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