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Works Thomas Girtin

Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd

(?) 1798

Primary Image: TG1301: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd, (?) 1798, graphite and watercolour on laid paper (watermark: Fleur-de-Lys / LVG), 28.7 × 39.6 cm, 11 ¼ × 15 ⅝ in.Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University. Museum Purchase Fund (1971.35).

Photo courtesy of Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, Museum Purchase Fund, 1971.35 (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd
(?) 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper (watermark: Fleur-de-Lys / LVG)
28.7 × 39.6 cm, 11 ¼ × 15 ⅝ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch; Unfinished Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales; River Scenery

Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd (TG1302)
Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd (TG1304)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
319iii as 'Rhuddlan Castle, Flintshire'; '1799'
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


Magdalen Colville (1878–1965); her sale, Sotheby’s, 12 December 1945, lot 23 as 'Chepstow'; bought by P & D Colnaghi & Co., £38; bought from them by Leonard Gordon Duke (1890–1971) (D718), £50; his sale, Sotheby’s, 29 April 1971, lot 70 as 'Rhuddlan Castle and the River Clwyd, Flintshire'; bought by the Museum, £320

Exhibition History

Stanford, 1985, no.194


Mayne, 1949, p.108; Eitner and others, 1993, pp.108–9; Brooke, 2002, pp.208–9

About this Work

This view of Rhuddlan Castle, seen from the river Clwyd, may have been sketched on the spot during the early stages of Girtin’s visit to North Wales in the summer of 1798, though its extremely faded condition makes confirmation of its status problematic. If the work was executed on the spot, rather than being an unfinished studio work, it means that the artist adopted a position downriver from the castle so that, looking south east, the double tower of the gatehouse aligns vertically with the two arches of the bridge over the Clwyd. The result is a starkly symmetrical composition that, with ‘the nakedness of the terrain and the wide sweep of its vacant space’ is reminiscent of the ‘sense of romantic solitude’ of landscapes by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (Eitner and others, 1993, p.108). This effect, the writer continued, was helped by the watercolour’s unfinished state, making it like one of the later ‘colour beginnings’ of Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). The trouble with this suggestion is that the effect might equally have occurred as the result of the radical change in the watercolour’s appearance due to fading, something of which can be gauged by examining the small strips on three sides, which were protected by a mount and thus retain traces of the original colours. Thus, on balance, and partly based on the fact that Girtin produced more colour sketches on the spot during the 1798 Welsh tour than at any other time in his career, I suspect that this work was indeed coloured in the open air and was therefore used as the basis for two other studio watercolours (TG1302 and TG1304). However, it is such a close call that I may change my mind once again, but perhaps that is the point since the problems we have in determining the status of Girtin’s more economical landscapes are symptomatic of one of the defining characteristics of the artist’s work at a crucial time in his development: namely, the effacement of the distinction between the sketch and the finished watercolour.

Turner too sketched the castle from a similar viewpoint on the west bank of the river Clywd during his tour of North Wales in 1798. Arriving perhaps a month or so later, Girtin’s contemporary made a rapid small scale sketch that includes shipping on the river and the prominent form of the west front of the church of St Mary’s to the left (Tate, Turner Bequest XXXIX 43). In comparison, Girtin omits the river traffic and cutting the composition to the left emphasises the ‘vacant space’ and ‘romantic solitude’ noted above.


Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd


1798 - 1799

Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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