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Works Thomas Girtin

Lydford Castle, from the River Lyd

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1734: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Lydford Castle, from the River Lyd, (?) 1800, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 32.3 × 52.1 cm, 12 ¾ × 20 ½ in. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007 (2007.8.87).

Photo courtesy of The Clark Art Institute, Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007 (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Lydford Castle, from the River Lyd
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
32.3 × 52.1 cm, 12 ¾ × 20 ½ in

'Girtin' lower centre by Thomas Girtin; 'F' and 'Lidford Castle Devon / by Girtin' in pencil on the back of the original mount (now lost)

Object Type
Samuel William Reynolds: Dealer; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; River Scenery; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2002


Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835) (1803 list of works disposed of: 'Lidford Castle' sold with four other work for £50); bought by Elizabeth Weddell (née Ramsden) (1749–1831), December 1801; bequeathed to John Charles Ramsden (1788–1836); then by descent to Phyllida Gordon-Duff-Pennington (née Pennington-Ramsden, 1929–2011); Sotheby’s, 11 July 1990, lot 92, £176,000; the Leger Galleries, London; bought from them by Sir Edwin Alfred Grenville Manton (1909–2005), 1991; Manton Family Art Foundation, 2005–07; presented to the Institute, 2007

Exhibition History

Leger Galleries, 1992, no.34; London, 2002, no.164 as ’Lydford Castle, Devon’


Morris, 1990, p.59; Wilton, 2001, pp.95–96; Clarke, 2012, no.145, p.267

About this Work

This fine signed watercolour shows a view of Lydford Castle seen from the river Lyd looking north, with the tower of St Petrock’s Church to the left. Lydford, on the edge of Dartmoor, was a popular stopping point on the road between south and north Devon, and Girtin is likely to have broken his journey here in the autumn of 1797 on the way to Bideford. It was the waterfalls and the sublime scenery of the Lydford Gorge that attracted the attention of artists and tourists alike, and Girtin may have been encouraged to stop and sketch the locality by the example of one of his artistic mentors, Richard Wilson (1713/14–82), whose earlier painting Lydford Waterfall (see TG1330 figure 1) seems to have inspired Girtin’s view The Ogwen Falls (TG1330). However, when it came to looking back through his earlier sketches, Girtin chose as his subject for this watercolour a less obviously promising view of a ‘square castle’ that his fellow artist Thomas Hewitt Williams (unknown dates) claimed was not just unpicturesque but had ‘the least attracting appearance of any ever erected’ (Williams, 1804, p.83). In fact, the twelfth- or thirteenth-century structure known as Lydford Castle was built as a court and jail and was notorious for its harsh administration of justice as it was associated, probably unfairly, with Judge Jeffreys’ (c.1645–89) Bloody Assizes. It is possible that Girtin had this in mind when he chose a distant view that places the square tower on the horizon as a shapeless dark mass with crows circling it and a dramatic, stormy sky turning the moors behind black. More generally, the view provided the artist with the sort of richly varied landscape of ‘combining objects’ that he felt was essential ‘to form a picture’ (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, pp.496 and 498). Prime amongst these ingredients was a river, and in this case it typically cuts right across the foreground, giving way to the gorge of the Lyd, joining from the left, and this is varied by the fertile fields, which occupy an area lit up by a break in the sky. Unusually for Girtin, who rarely showed interest in or knowledge of agricultural activities, a team of men and horses is seen ploughing, which refers to the fact that the artist passed through Lydford in early November.

The watercolour is one of two Devon views that were bought by Elizabeth Weddell (1749–1831), an early collector of Girtin’s work (the other being TG1736) (Smith, 2002a, pp.166–67; Morris, 2002a, p.257). They were part of a group of five late compositions that Weddell purchased in December 1801 for £50 from 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 she also subscribed to the artist’s Picturesque Views in Paris, paying six guineas for a proof set of the twenty aquatints (Reynolds, Letter, 1803; Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 The Lydford view conforms to the larger of the two standard sizes of watercolours that Girtin supplied to Reynolds to sell on the open market, the majority of which he dated, presumably to prove to collectors that they were not buying old, unsold works. As a collector buying from Reynolds’ stock, Weddell would have had no input into the watercolours, and it is even possible that she had little or no idea about their subject, acquiring them primarily as characteristic examples of Girtin’s work. As with all but one of the other watercolours she chose, this watercolour has remained in good condition, certainly in comparison with many of the others sold by Reynolds. This may have been down to the care taken by her descendants to protect the works from the deleterious effect of light, but it could also be that Weddell knew enough, as an amateur artist herself, to chose works that did not employ the fugitive pigments that have damaged so many of Girtin’s late watercolours.

St Petrock's Church, Lydford

A much smaller view that appears to show the tower of the church of St Petrock at Lydford is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum with the title Bridgworth (see figure 1). The work is identified as showing the church at Lydford in a photograph in the Witt Library, London, and it was under this title that it was known to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), who pronounced it a ‘pupil’s attempt’ (Girtin Archive, 14).

1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls


(?) 1800

On the River Taw, North Devon, Looking from Braunton Marsh towards Instow and Appledore


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The letter detailing the sales of Girtin’s works by Reynolds is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1803 – Item 3).

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