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Works Thomas Girtin

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1552: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough , (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on paper, 24.5 × 30.5 cm, 9 ⅝ × 12 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Bonhams (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
24.5 × 30.5 cm, 9 ⅝ × 12 in

'Near Lord Harewood's House' lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Lake Scenery; The Landscape Park; Yorkshire View

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough (TG1553)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2006


Bonhams, 6 June 2006, lot 33 as 'Plompton rocks, Yorkshire', £3,120

About this Work

This sketch of Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough in Yorkshire, which appeared in public for the first time at an auction in 2006, was used by Girtin as the basis for one of four monumental watercolours, each measuring roughly 62.7 × 97.8 cm (25 ¾ × 38 ½ in), that were commissioned by Edward Lascelles (1764–1814) of nearby Harewood House (TG1553). One of the group is dated 1801 and Lascelles’ payment is recorded in a letter dating from June of that year, so there is little doubt that the sketches for the commission were made in the previous summer, when Girtin is documented as having stayed with the patron at Harewood (Roget, 1891, p.110).1 This is confirmed by the existence of the dated pencil drawing Harewood House, from the South West (TG1603), which was presumably made on the spot as preparation for one of the Lascelles commissions.

The picturesque location of Plumpton Rocks provided a particularly suitable companion piece for the two distant views of Harewood House, shown from the south east and south west respectively (TG1548 and TG1547), since the picturesque site formed the focal point of a landscape garden that had been created for a junior member of the family, Daniel Lascelles (1714–84). Plompton Park (spelt differently), about ten kilometres to the north east of Harewood, was designed by John Carr (1723–1807) around 1755, and it was he who created the artificial lake that sets off the series of gritstone outcrops to such picturesque effect. By Girtin’s day, however, the grounds were owned by the 1st Earl of Harewood (1740–1820), who in 1797 commissioned two views in oils from Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (see TG1553 figure 1). It was his son, Edward, who directed Girtin to the beauty spot to record his own version of the scene, no doubt with Turner’s paintings in mind. Perhaps knowing that he had a commission for a major watercolour, Girtin created a larger sketch than was his normal practice, to which he then added touches of colour. The result, though by no means spectacular, in some ways creates a better sense of space and depth than the final watercolour, which is faded badly and in poor condition. Neither Turner’s oils nor the two surviving sketches of the rocks he made during his 1797 northern tour (Tate, Turner Bequest, LI Y and CXCVII L) hint at the dramatic, claustrophobic sense of enclosure that Girtin developed in the watercolour made from this sketch and it was presumably this quality that Edward prized over the more picturesque effects that Turner created for his father.

1800 - 1801

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough



Harewood House, from the South West


(?) 1801

Harewood House, from the South East


(?) 1801

Harewood House, from the South West


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 YRK York Papers, Borthwick Institute, University of York

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