For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

Kirkstall Village


Primary Image: TG1639: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Kirkstall Village, 1801, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper, 31.3 × 48.9 cm, 12 ⅜ × 19 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1986.29.529).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Kirkstall Village
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper
31.3 × 48.9 cm, 12 ⅜ × 19 ¼ in

‘1801’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; The Village; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
449 as 'Village of Kirkstall'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Walter Benjamin Tiffin (1795–1877); bought from him by George Wyndham Girtin (1836–1912), 16 August 1860, £12 (lent to London, 1875; London, 1877); then by descent to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1986

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.68 as 'Village of Kirkstall, Yorkshire'; London, 1877, no.304; Cambridge, 1920, no.32; Tokyo, 1929, no.74; Sheffield, 1953, no.53; London, 1962a, no.158; New Haven, 1986a, not in the catalogue


Lytton, 1911, no.10; Davies, 1924, pl.53; Mayne, 1949, pl.41

About this Work

This view of the village of Kirkstall on the river Aire, a few hundred metres away from the celebrated abbey ruins, is badly faded, and this has no doubt contributed to its comparative neglect. The work has always been identified as showing Kirkstall, but there is no independent evidence to confirm this, and nor might one expect there to be. The numerous artists who travelled to sketch the picturesque ruins nearby did not generally stop at the village, and there appears to be no other contemporary view of Kirkstall that might corroborate the title of Girtin’s watercolour. However, the facades of the vernacular buildings are distinctive enough, together with the unusual combination of a footbridge and a ford for carts, for us to be reasonably sure that the scene is not invented, though without more evidence the title should continue to be treated with some caution.

The poor, faded condition of the watercolour means that the sky, together with its reflection in the river, has disappeared almost completely, whilst the foliage to the right and the distant fields have changed to a dull tone, barely distinguishable from the earth colours used for the roof tiles. I suspect that this dated drawing from 1801 was once an outstanding work in which Girtin paid uncharacteristic attention to the animals and figures that populate the scene. In particular, he took care with the cart and horses watering in the river, and this detail may even have been based on his drawing Four Studies of a Cart (TG1522), which he appears to have made a few years earlier. Certainly, there is more logic to the action of the horses drinking in the river compared to the very similar group in a field in the watercolour known as The Carter (TG1523), and, in general, the work has a strong claim to being a snapshot of village life even if some of the figures, including the two men to the right of the bridge, are out of scale with the rest.

1797 - 1798

Four Studies of a Cart


1798 - 1799

An Open Field with a Cart and Horses, Known as ‘The Carter’


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.