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Works Thomas Girtin

Okehampton Castle, from the West Okement River

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1276: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Okehampton Castle, from the West Okement River, 1797–98, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 16.3 × 23.9 cm, 6 ⅜ × 9 ⅜ in. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Gift of W.B. Dalton, Stamford, Conn., 1959 (59/2).

Photo courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario, Gift of W.B. Dalton, Stamford, Conn. and the United Kingdom, 1959 (59/2) (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Okehampton Castle, from the West Okement River
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
16.3 × 23.9 cm, 6 ⅜ × 9 ⅜ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin; ‘T. G. Worthington, given him by Col[?] Holten of Farleigh Castle for whom the Drawing was made’ on the back in another hand

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Cattle by a River with a Castle Beyond, Probably Okehampton (TG1280)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
207 as 'Landscape with Ruined Castle, Probably Okehampton'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Exhibition Catalogue


John Torriano Houlton (1773–1839); given to Thomas Giles Worthington (born c.1773); ... David Eccles, 1st Viscount Eccles (1904–99); Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1953; William Bower Dalton (1868–1965); presented to the Gallery, 1959

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1953a, no.48 as ’A Ruined Castle on a Hill ... Probably Okehampton Castle’; Kingston, 1964, no.11; Toronto, 1967, no.7; Toronto, 1987, no.6 as ’Okehampton Castle’


Art Gallery of Toronto, News and Notes, vol.4, no.2 (May 1960) as 'Landscape with Ruined Castle'

About this Work

Samuel Middiman (1751–1831), after M. Michell (unknown dates), etching and engraving, 'View of Okehampton Castle' for <i>Select Views in Great Britain</i>, pl.27, 25 January 1787, 15.1 × 20.3 cm, 6 × 8 in. British Museum, London (1870,1008.309).

This watercolour has, for much of its known history, been titled ‘A Ruined Castle on a Hill’, and any suggestion that it was Okehampton would have seemed far-fetched. Certainly, the location of the formless ruins on a low hill does not resemble the dramatic scene depicted by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) in his two later watercolours of Okehampton (Tate Britain, Turner Bequest (CCVIII E) and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (211-2)), though it is closer to the more modest eminence shown in an engraving after Samuel Prout (1783–1852) published in 1805, even if the profile of the ruins is quite different from that seen in Girtin’s image. However, the discovery during the preparation of this online catalogue of an engraving by Samuel Middiman (1750–1831) of the view looking north from the West Okement river finally confirmed that Girtin’s watercolour does show the picturesque Devon castle after all (see figure 1). Girtin visited Okehampton in the autumn of 1797, making an on-the-spot colour sketch of the ruined castle that resulted in a studio watercolour (TG1278), and it is possible that he executed another pencil sketch that formed the basis of this work (TG1280), though no photograph of the drawing seems to exist and it has not been possible to confirm this.

The fact that we can identify another outcome of Girtin’s West Country tour gains in significance because we know who commissioned the watercolour. Thus, an inscription on the back of the drawing’s mount records that it was presented to its second owner by ‘Holten of Farleigh Castle for whom the Drawing was made’. This was almost certainly John Torriano Houlton (1773–1839) of Farleigh House in Somerset, and, though this barely qualifies him as a local West Country patron, it may be that Girtin visited Farleigh on his return journey in 1797. However, a modest-sized watercolour such as this would not have merited something of a detour, and Houlton himself did not inherit the property until 1806 so the commission, if the inscription is to believed, is more likely to have been finalised in London. Houlton is not known to have owned any other works by Girtin, however, and he was not a major patron of the artist who might have helped to underwrite the costs of the West Country tour.

Okehampton Castle, from the River Okement

A copy of the composition appeared at an auction in 2017 (see figure 2) (Exhibitions: Woolley & Wallis, 12 September 2017, lot 93). Cattle by a River with a Castle Beyond was catalogued as by a ‘Follower of Thomas Girtin’ and is roughly the same size as the replica of another Okehampton subject (TG1279), though the monochrome effect here does not seem to have been caused by the same excessive fading.


1799 - 1800

Okehampton Castle


(?) 1797

Cattle by a River with a Castle Beyond, Probably Okehampton


1800 - 1805

Okehampton Castle


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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