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Works Thomas Girtin

Ripon Minster, from the South East

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1666: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Ripon Minster, from the South East, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 31.3 × 51.1 cm, 12 ⅜ × 20 ⅛ in. National Galleries of Scotland (D NG 1012).

Photo courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Print after: Thomas Lupton (1791–1873), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) 'From a drawing in the possession of Sir James Stuart, Bart', mezzotint on steel, 'Ripon Minster on the Rivers Ure and Skell' for The Rivers of England, pl.12, 1 March 1825, 19.7 × 24.9 cm, 7 ¾ × 9 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1928,0713.196).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Ripon Minster, from the South East
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
31.3 × 51.1 cm, 12 ⅜ × 20 ⅛ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
156 as 'Ripon Minster' by Girtin but 'Listed with some reserve'; '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and June 2018


Sir James Stuart (according to 1825 mezzotint); ... James Guthrie Orchar (1825–98); presented to the Royal Scottish Academy, 1882; transferred to the Gallery, 1910


Hill, 1999, p.52; Tate Gallery, 1996, p.22; Baker, 2011, p.128

About this Work

The extremely faded state of this watercolour, depicting a view of Ripon Minster from the south east, has caused some confusion about both the work’s date and its status. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thus listed the work as by Girtin ‘with some reserve’, and dated it to 1796 and to the artist’s first independent tour, to Yorkshire and the northern counties, whilst David Hill suggested that it is ‘a fine piece, possibly sketched on the spot in pencil, and perhaps even coloured on the spot to some extent’, and he also dated it to the earlier northern trip (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.155; Hill, 1999, p.52). Leaving aside the question of the date, there are a number of problems with the thesis that the work was coloured on the spot. Not the least is its large scale, which though not unprecedented (see TG1319) is certainly unusual as it actually conforms to the standard size of the studio watercolours that the artist produced around 1800 for sale by Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. More concerning still is the sky, which, though it has faded to almost nothing, was originally highly complex and dramatic, as can be seen from the mezzotint that was engraved from the watercolour by Thomas Lupton (1791–1873) in 1825 (see the print after, bove). The grey clouds and the intervening patches of blue have all gone, but just enough remains in the form of faint monochrome washes to suggest that the mezzotint is an accurate record of the pre-faded condition of a skyscape that covered more than half of the area of the watercolour. With so much of the original missing, it is easy to see why earlier writers thought that the work was made on the spot because, in addition to the colouring having changed dramatically, which has also seen the degradation of the greens of the vegetation, the extensive underlying pencil drawing has been revealed. In particular, a tree to the right of the minster – which must have been sketched in as a framing device, as in Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe (TG1680), but which the artist thought better of and painted over – has once again become visible, so much so that I have wondered whether the drawing might not have been left off, unfinished. However, the experience of seeing so many badly faded watercolours by Girtin over the years has convinced me that this is a late studio work and that all of the evident pencil work that might suggest a drawing sketched on the spot would not originally have been visible. The status of the watercolour as a studio work is also suggested by the fact that we probably know the identity of its first owner, since the print notes that the drawing was ‘in the possession of Sir James Stuart’ (unknown dates), along with the comparable York Minster from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right (TG1656), which is the same size and would have made a fine pair. The latter was almost certainly sold by Reynolds, and there is a strong possibility that this was the case with this watercolour too.

Ripon: The Minster Seen from the South-East, with the Canal in the Foreground

The mezzotint by Lupton was published as plate twelve of The Rivers of England with the title ‘Ripon Minster on the Rivers Ure and Skell’, identifying the location of the view as from the confluence of the rivers, a few hundred metres to the south east of the minster. This is roughly the same direction from which Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) sketched the building (see figure 1), though he took his view from closer to and from the canal. Turner’s sketch dates from 1797 and may predate Girtin’s untraced drawing for this watercolour, though given that two, more distant views of the minster, also from the south east, may have stemmed from an earlier visit by Girtin in 1796 (TG1053 and TG1054), it is possible that it was the latter who inspired Turner to take his view.

(?) 1798

The Cain Falls (Pistyll Cain), near Dolgellau



Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe



York Minster from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right


1796 - 1797

A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell


1797 - 1798

A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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