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Works Thomas Girtin

Newcastle upon Tyne

(?) 1796

Primary Image: TG1080: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Newcastle upon Tyne, (?) 1796, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 8.6 × 15.8 cm, 3 ⅜ × 6 ¼ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (1688).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
(?) 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper
8.6 × 15.8 cm, 3 ⅜ × 6 ¼ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch; Visible Fold in the Paper
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; Durham and Northumberland; River Scenery

Newcastle-upon-Tyne (TG1081)
Newcastle-upon-Tyne (TG1082)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
160i as 'Newcastle upon Tyne'; '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Sir John Charles Robinson (1824–1913); bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, 3 June 1901 (stock no.3590); bought by Gerald Philip Robinson (1858–1942), 26 January 1903; Sotheby’s, 24 February 1914, no.70; bought by Messrs Ernest Brown & Phillips, £15; Francis Henry Hill Guillemard (1852–1933) (lent to Cambridge, 1920); bequeathed to the Museum, 1933

Exhibition History

Cambridge, 1920, no.18; Newcastle, 1982, no.77


Grundy, 1921b, pp.65–66

About this Work

This sketch of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, seen from an eminence on the north bank of the river Tyne looking west, was made in 1796 on Girtin’s first independent sketching tour. Only one of the twenty or so pencil drawings and on-the-spot colour sketches that survive from the trip is dated, but it is still broadly possible to trace Girtin’s progress through Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and the Scottish Borders from the titles of the works that he sent to the 1797 Royal Academy exhibition, and from the dated watercolours that were subsequently produced from these and other untraced sketches. In this case, neither of the two watercolours that Girtin executed from this sketch is dated (TG1081 and TG1082), though the engraving that was made from the former is inscribed ‘July 1st 1797’ (see print after TG1081). Moreover, the 1796 date of the drawing is confirmed by the fact that whilst Girtin’s drawing shows All Saints’ Church to the left of the cathedral as unfinished, the engraver of the print has added the spire to the tower in recognition of the completion of the building in the months following the artist’s visit.

Both of the studio watercolours of the Newcastle view are close to the sketch, and a striking similarity between the source and the finished work is indeed a feature of the studies Girtin made on the 1796 tour. Only a handful of them were not used as the basis for studio watercolours, and it is clear that the artist carefully selected views that would make powerful compositions – unlike his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), Girtin did not make numerous drawings as a way of getting to know a subject. For Girtin, the act of sketching was therefore just as much a matter of composing as it was of recording the details of a site. In this case, the artist’s chosen viewpoint was well calculated to display a range of the city’s main architectural monuments, both old and new, along with a view of the river, the source of the city’s growing wealth. From left to right, the horizon is dominated by the tower of St Mary’s in Gateshead, the Norman castle, All Saints (the light-coloured tower in the centre) and the open spire of the church of St Nicholas. The last of these, now the cathedral, was the subject of another watercolour by Girtin, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 (TG1460). Although there is little doubt that some of the colouring of the outline drawing was at least begun on the spot, the distant landscape and in particular the sky seem more carefully planned, and they were possibly added later in the studio. Such suggestions are beyond proof, but I suspect that this process took place much later and that it was designed to make the sketch into a more saleable commodity. Whilst the addition of a few washes of colour to capture the distribution of light across the scene would have been of assistance for the artist when producing his later studio watercolours, there is no equal rationale for painting a rapidly changing sky when a sky suitable for a finished work would inevitably be very different.

1796 - 1797



1799 - 1800



1796 - 1797



(?) 1798

St Nicholas’ Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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