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Works Thomas Girtin

Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge


Primary Image: TG1659: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge, 1800, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper, on an original washline mount, 27.6 × 43.6 cm, 10 ⅞ × 17 ⅛ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.364).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Print after: Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), mezzotint, Ripon, 7 March 1824, republished in Liber Naturae; or, A Collection of Prints from the Drawings of Thomas Girtin, pl.8, London, 1883, 16.3 × 23 cm, 6 ⅜ × 9 in. British Museum, London (1893,0612.82.9).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper, on an original washline mount
27.6 × 43.6 cm, 10 ⅞ × 17 ⅛ in
Mount Dimensions
31.4 × 47.6 cm, 12 ⅜ × 18 ¾ in

‘Girtin 1800’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Part of
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge (TG1660)
Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge (TG1661)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
386i as 'Ripon Minster'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


John Constable (1776–1837), probably acquired from Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787–1855) in 1830 (see Documents section of the Archive, 1830); then by descent to Lionel Bicknell Constable (1828–87) (lent to London, 1875); Isabel Constable (1823–88); her estate sale, Christie's, 17 June 1892, lot 269; bought by 'Agnew' £31 10s; Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.617); sold to W. Mark Ashton, 17 November 1892, £57 15s; J. Palser & Sons (stock no.15543); sold to Leggatt Brothers, London, 29 April 1902; bought by Alfred Aaron de Pass (1861–1952); his sale, Christie's, 3 June 1912, lot 84; bought by 'Palser', £50; J. Palser & Sons (stock no.17132); bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 1 August 1913, £126; given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.97; Agnew’s, 1931, no.119; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.56; Sheffield, 1953, no.52; London, 1962a, no.156; Manchester, 1975, no.72 as ’Ripon Cathedral, Yorkshire’; New Haven, 1986a, no.78


Holme, 1902; Davies, 1924, pl.81; Mayne, 1949, p.103; Tuck, 1997, pp.356, 390–1; Hill, 1999, p.52

About this Work

This very faded watercolour shows the view across the river Skell to the west front of Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge anchoring the composition. Earlier writers, following the lead of Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak, believed that the building, which did not get cathedral status until 1836, has been brought forward and placed to the right of the bridge, so that the scene has been doctored to create a ‘capriccio composition’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.186–87; Hawcroft, 1975, p.50). However, as David Hill has more recently shown, the view in the watercolour does tally with the site, and Girtin must indeed have stood on the banks of the river to make his original sketch (Hill, 1999, p.52). This is currently untraced, which is a great shame because the drawing might help with the vexatious issue of the date of Girtin’s visits to Ripon. The artist first portrayed the minster in a watercolour (TG0865) made from a print after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), but this predated his first trip to Yorkshire in 1796, when there is some evidence that he visited the nearby Fountains Abbey, and a couple of distant views of Ripon may also have been outcomes of this tour (TG1053 and TG1054). A second wave of Ripon subjects followed in 1800 and 1801 (TG1661 and TG1666). Whilst it is possible that in these works the artist looked back to earlier sketches, a pencil drawing of the minster from the south east appears to have been executed in 1799 (TG1513), and I suspect that it was this return visit that resulted in the substantial number of views of the building from different locations. All of these show the minster from either of the rivers in the vicinity of Ripon, the Skell and the Ure, and it was no doubt the presence of water that was the attraction for Girtin, who around 1800 was looking to create a rather different type of cathedral view from those that he had painted for the antiquarian market at the outset of his career; the setting, and not the architectural details, was now the key element.

Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge

This was no doubt prompted by the shift in the artist’s relationship with the art market around 1800, which saw him produce a substantial stock of drawings for disposal through an intermediary, Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. The existence of a mezzotint of this composition by Reynolds (see the print after, above, Neill & Son, 1883), which carefully replicates every aspect of the watercolour, suggests that this drawing must have gone through the representative’s hands and that it was one of the smaller sizes that were supplied to him by Girtin, probably at a price of four guineas (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1 The Ripon composition was evidently a popular one, for at least one other version is known (TG1661), and there are a number of copies of varying quality (for example, see figure 1 and TG1670 figure 1), made either by Reynolds or by amateurs and pupils working from the mezzotint, and the dealer’s posthumous sale included two items listed as ‘Rippon Minster’ (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 18 April 1836, lot 173). Reynolds’ mezzotint may have generated a number of spurious and confusing copies, but it did perform a more useful function as a record of the work in its pre-faded state, albeit in black and white. Making allowances for the way in which mezzotint tends to over-dramatise light effects, the print nonetheless shows how the loss of the greys in the sky and the greens in the band of vegetation in the middle ground that frames the west front has resulted in the rather bland and flat watercolour we see today. One feature of the work has not changed, fortunately: very unusually for a mature Girtin watercolour, the artist’s own washline mount has been retained. For this we have the family of Girtin’s great contemporary John Constable (1776–1837) to thank; they owned this version of the composition, and it is likely that it was bought by the artist himself, who also probably owned a set of Girtin’s Paris prints (Exhibitions: Christie's, 17 June 1892, lot 10).

David Hill has mischievously suggested that, given that the prime example of the Ripon composition was owned by Constable, perhaps he should be investigated as the author of at least one of the numerous copies that exist, though I am not sure Hill had in mind the poor-quality version owned by the National Gallery of Ireland (see figure 1) (Hill, 1999, p.52). That watercolour, which was previously wrongly identified as showing St Asaph Cathedral in Wales, was surprisingly listed by Girtin and Loshak as a ‘Clumsy replica probably by Girtin’ of the version at Yale (TG1659) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.187). This must be wrong, since although the summary nature of some of the washes makes it look as though the copyist is aping Girtin’s sketching style, leading Girtin and Loshak to conclude that the work was sketched on the spot, the drawing is very poor, and I am sure that it is a contemporary copy, possibly by a pupil.

(?) 1795

Ripon Minster, from the River Skell


1796 - 1797

A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell


1797 - 1798

A Distant View of Ripon Minster, from the River Skell


1800 - 1801

Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge


1800 - 1801

Ripon Minster, from the South East


1799 - 1800

Ripon Minster, from the South East


1800 - 1801

Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge



Ripon Minster, with Skellgate Bridge


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The details are contained in a letter from Reynolds to Sawrey Gilpin (1733–1807). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4).

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