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Works Thomas Girtin

Morpeth Bridge

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1707: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Morpeth Bridge, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on an original mount (watermark: 1793), 31.4 × 52.4 cm, 12 ⅜ × 20 ⅝ in. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Atherton Bean (77.42).

Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Atherton Bean (Public Domain)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • Morpeth Bridge
Date
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on an original mount (watermark: 1793)
Dimensions
31.4 × 52.4 cm, 12 ⅜ × 20 ⅝ in
Inscription

‘Morpeth Northumberland’ on the mount

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Visible Fold in the Paper
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; River Scenery; The Country Town

Collection
Versions
Morpeth Bridge (TG1708)
Morpeth Bridge (TG1709)
Catalogue Number
TG1707
Girtin & Loshak Number
489i as '1802'

Provenance

Christie’s, 25 May 1886, lot 113 as 'View of Morpeth';bought by 'Agnew', 35 gns; Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.8001); bought by Sir William Agnew, 1st Baronet (1825–1910), 24 April 1889, £73 10s; then by descent to Sir George William Agnew, 2nd Baronet (1852–1941); then by descent to Sir John Stuart Agnew, 3rd Baronet (1879–1957) (lent to Agnew's, 1953); Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1972 (stock no. 4636); Mr and Mrs Atherton Bean; presented to the Institute, 1977

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1887, no.255; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.33; Agnew’s, 1972, no.17; Agnew’s, 1976, no.5

About this Work

This is one of three similar watercolours that show the same view of the coaching town of Morpeth in Northumberland, which Girtin probably visited in 1800, on his way to or from the Scottish Borders (the others being TG1708 and TG1709). The watercolour depicts the ancient bridge from the south bank of the river Wansbeck, the piers of which still exist despite the structure being partially dismantled in 1834, whilst the belfry seen to the left is part of the still extant chantry chapel. Apart from this and the gatehouse of the castle, which was the subject of another watercolour by Girtin (TG1540), Morpeth had little to recommend it architecturally or historically. However, perhaps as with the similar market town of Wetherby (TG1643), further south in Yorkshire, that was the point, since the subjects of Girtin’s later watercolours were increasingly taken from less well-known sites. In this case, as with Wetherby, the visit did not need a detour as the town was on a major coaching route, and Girtin’s untraced sketches may have been made during a break in his journey; this is perhaps alluded to in the inclusion of horses being watered in all three works. The crucial issue here is that the artist was able at this point in his career to find three customers for a composition that has no particular topographical or architectural interest, but where its basic components – a picturesque assemblage of buildings, an ancient bridge, a busy sky and a flat surface of water to mirror their reflections – combine to form an effective vehicle for the demonstration of Girtin’s skill. If this was the case, it was not that the subject was commonplace or typical that governed its choice, so much that anywhere with the right combination of elements might do equally.

Aside from the addition of a tree to the right of this work, and slight variations in the figures, all three versions of the Morpeth composition are very close, and all conform to the standard size of many of the artist’s later watercolours, 31.4 × 52.4 cm (12 ⅜ × 20 5/8 in). This was the larger of the two formats 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. Though there is no direct evidence that any of the three Morpeth subjects went through Reynolds’ hands, it is very likely that at least one was produced for him to sell on the open market, in which case it would probably have fetched around £10. It would be particularly interesting to know which version went to Reynolds because, although they are very similar in terms of the composition, each employs a different palette. This is most apparent as a result of the contrasting fates of the work in the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (TG1709), which is relatively unaffected by fading, and the watercolour in the collection of the National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff (TG1708), where the use of fugitive yellow, blue and purple pigments has resulted in the complete loss of the sky and the greens of the vegetation. Again, comparing the former work, which is in such good condition, with this watercolour, which equally seems relatively unaffected by fading, suggests that in this work Girtin used a different palette again, dominated by a cooler set of tones, and this led Paul Oppé (1878–1957) – wrongly, I think – to query its attribution (Girtin Archive, 29). The intriguing question, though one that cannot yet be easily answered, is whether the artist varied his choice of pigments for aesthetic reasons or whether their selection was governed by economic considerations. In other words, did the use of thin washes of fugitive colours help to speed up their production – something that might have been useful when supplying a large group of works to Reynolds – or did working for the open market encourage Girtin to ignore the sound advice of his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), to ‘sacrifice brilliancy for permanency’ and introduce eye-catching effects that might attract sales at the expense of their long-term security (Dayes, Works, p.300)?

1800 - 1801

Morpeth Bridge

TG1708

(?) 1802

Morpeth Bridge

TG1709

(?) 1800

The Gatehouse of Morpeth Castle

TG1540

(?) 1800

Wetherby: Looking through the Bridge to the Mills

TG1643

(?) 1802

Morpeth Bridge

TG1709

1800 - 1801

Morpeth Bridge

TG1708

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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