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Works Thomas Girtin

Morpeth Bridge


Primary Image: TG1706: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Morpeth Bridge, 1800, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 22.5 × 32.4 cm, 8 ⅞ × 12 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.20).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Morpeth Bridge
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
22.5 × 32.4 cm, 8 ⅞ × 12 ¾ in

‘Girtin 1800’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; River Scenery; The Country Town

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

Newcastle, 1982, no.88


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.12; Davies, 1924, pl.82; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.41, p.83; Wilton, 1984a, p.12

About this Work

This rather faded watercolour shows the view east along the river Wansbeck at Morpeth, looking towards the old bridge, with the belfry of Morpeth Chantry seen to the left. The viewpoint chosen by Girtin is a little closer to the bridge than that used in a better-known composition that exists in three versions (TG1707, TG1708 and TG1709). Here, there is a less complete view of the bridge, and the other buildings and the distant hill appear in a slightly different configuration. Girtin visited this part of Northumberland on his first northern tour, in 1796, but there is no evidence that Morpeth was then included in his itinerary. Given that all of the watercolours featuring the town date, as here, from 1800 or later, it is a reasonable assumption that he made his untraced sketches on the way to or from the Scottish Borders, which he visited in that year. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak came to the same conclusion, but via the surely mistaken idea that this work was actually ‘done on the spot’, arguing that the inscribed date was proof of the timing of the visit (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.182). Aside from the fact that the artist did not sign and date his colour sketches, the evidence of the work itself suggests that it was painted in the studio from a pencil study. The range of tones is far too great for a sketch made on the spot, and there is altogether too much preplanning involved in the painting of the figures, in particular, for this to be anything other than a small-scale studio work. The sky, it is true, is painted very fluidly, but its reflection in the water, together with large areas of foliage, is the result of the careful superimposition of complex layers of wash, a process that is inconsistent with the artist’s sketching practice, where speed of production was the key and accidental effects an inevitable consequence.

The size of the work, which matches that of another Morpeth subject showing the gatehouse of the castle (TG1540), is crucial to understanding its status. Rather than it being a sketch, therefore, I suspect that its format is an indication that we are looking at a particular sort of commodity, the smaller of the two sizes of watercolour 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. Valued at four guineas each, these were not just smaller but employed less labour, and this is the key (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1 The watercolour’s faded condition, which has seen a certain amount of flattening in the areas of vegetation, for instance, has partly obscured the issue, but what might be characterised as a more sketchy approach, in comparison with the larger versions of the Morpeth scene, reflects the production requirements of a cheaper commodity.

1800 - 1801

Morpeth Bridge


1800 - 1801

Morpeth Bridge


(?) 1802

Morpeth Bridge


(?) 1800

The Gatehouse of Morpeth Castle


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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