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Works Thomas Girtin

Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1304: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper, 20.2 × 33.3 cm, 8 × 13 ¼ in. Tate (T08907).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper
20.2 × 33.3 cm, 8 × 13 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ on the back

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Visible Fold in the Paper
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales; River Scenery

Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd (TG1301)
Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd (TG1302)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
319ii as 'Rhuddlan Castle, Flintshire'; '1799'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Magdalen Colville (1878–1965); her sale, Sotheby’s, 12 December 1945, lot 22 as 'Chepstow'; bought by Paul Oppé (1878–1957), £6; then by descent; bought by Tate as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, 1996

Exhibition History

London, 1958a, no.156; Lichfield, 1987, no.15


Oppé, 1957–59, p.98, no.2302; Rosenthal and Lyles, 2013, pp.30–31

About this Work

This view of the thirteenth-century castle built for Edward I (1239–1307) at Rhuddlan, seen from the river Clwyd, is the smallest of three versions of a composition that resulted from Girtin’s tour of North Wales in 1798. One of the watercolours is dated 1799 (TG1302), whilst the other may be the on-the-spot colour sketch (TG1301), though its poor, faded condition makes this difficult to substantiate. This work too is badly faded, so that the dramatic broken sky, which lights up the castle in a characteristic fashion, has all but been lost, whilst the reflections in the water in the foreground lack the subtle patterns that typically anchor Girtin’s compositions. This is a great pity, because the artist’s adopted position downriver produced a powerful symmetrical composition of stark simplicity, with the double tower of the castle’s eastern gatehouse aligning vertically with the two arches of the bridge. However, what Lorenz Eitner has termed the ‘nakedness of the terrain and the wide sweep of its vacant space’, reminiscent of the ‘sense of romantic solitude’ found in the landscapes of John Robert Cozens (1752–97), may actually have been enhanced by the way the work has effectively been reduced to broad areas of monochrome (Eitner and others, 1993, p.108). The mood is enhanced by the artist’s decision to exclude the church of St Mary’s which in a sketch by Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), made a month or so later (Tate, Turner Bequest XXXIX 43), helps to create a different, more sociable context for the ruins.

Looking around for other Welsh views that have not faded and that might therefore give an idea of the watercolour’s original appearance, I was struck by the fact that, unlike the more overtly architectural views, there are very few landscapes that have not suffered a similar fate to the three Rhuddlan Castle scenes. Pont Seiont, Looking towards Mynydd Mawr (TG1328) indicates how the greens would have looked, but even here the greys in the sky have lost their depth. The partial fading of this watercolour suggests that it was the use of a fugitive pigment, presumably indigo, rather than excessive exposure to light that caused the problem. I suspect, therefore, that so many of the Welsh landscapes have suffered because the artist felt that the subtle range of effects he observed in the field required the use in the studio of fugitive pigments such as indigo for blue and gamboge for yellow, both as thin glazes and mixed with other colours, and that the corruption of just a few of these has consequently caused grievous damage. It is a sobering thought, therefore, that whilst in this case something of the grandeur of the original may remain, in general, it is the most faded of Girtin’s works that originally would have depicted the most subtle effects.

Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd

A similar watercolour known as View in Cumberland (see figure 1) is inscribed ‘T. Girtin 1801’ on the back. The work, which is not by Girtin, repeats elements of the Rhuddlan composition, including the way the double-arched bridge aligns with the bank behind, whilst the form of the hills in the distance seems to be based on Girtin’s view. However, the form of the castle has been changed, and the composition has been extended to the left with the addition of a framing device of trees. The work therefore appears to be a weak variation of the composition, perhaps by the same unknown amateur artist who was responsible for a similarly sized watercolour based on Girtin’s A Mill in Essex (see TG1416 figure 1), from the same private collection.


Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd


(?) 1798

Rhuddlan Castle, from the River Clwyd



Pont Seiont, Looking towards Mynydd Mawr (Big Mountain)


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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