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Works Thomas Girtin

The Eildon Hills, from the River Tweed


Primary Image: TG1718: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Eildon Hills, from the River Tweed, 1800, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper, 49.3 × 64.3 cm, 19 ⅜ × 25 ¼ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (1009).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: James Mérigot (active 1772–1816), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), aquatint and etching, hand-coloured, 'Eildon Hills' for John Stoddart, Remarks on Local Scenery & Manners in Scotland During the Years 1799 and 1800, vol.2, p.279, May 1801, 12.1 × 18.1 cm, 4 ¾ × 7 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1872,0413.290).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Eildon Hills, from the River Tweed
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper
49.3 × 64.3 cm, 19 ⅜ × 25 ¼ in

‘Girtin 1800’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Visible Fold in the Paper
Subject Terms
River Scenery; The Scottish Borders; Hills and Mountains

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
354 as 'The Eildon Hills, near Melrose'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


James Stuart-Wortley, 1st Baron Wharncliffe (1776–1845); B. M. Oliver; his sale, Christie’s, 27 April 1867, lot 2 as 'Eildon Hills, near Abbotsford. Signed 1800. From Lord Wharncliffe’s Collection' (noted as 'faded'); bought by 'Noseda'; Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911) (lent to London, 1875; London, 1877); then by descent to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); presented to the Museum, 1920

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.56 as ’Eildon Hills, Melrose’; London, 1877, no.310 as ’Weston, River Wharfe’; London, 1912, no.41 as 'Eildon Hills, near Melrose'; Edinburgh, 1978, no.8.2 as 'The Eildon Hills and the Tweed near Melrose'

About this Work

The Eildon Hills, Roxburghshire

This very faded watercolour, which dates from 1800, shows a distant view of the Eildon Hills taken from the river Tweed in the Scottish Borders. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that the view depicted was from Melrose (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.182), but Tom Girtin (1913–94) suggested that the angle of the hills accords much better with the view from Dryburgh, where Girtin is known to have stayed in 1800 with the 11th Earl of Buchan (1742–1829) at Dryburgh Abbey, his seat adjacent to the monastic ruins that Girtin depicted in three watercolours (TG1120, TG1121 and TG1719) (Jenkins, Notes, 1852).1 The authors of the catalogue of Girtin’s watercolours also suggested that the work came from Buchan’s collection, though this cannot be substantiated, and we do not know the identity of the ‘friend’ who lent the work to the author John Stoddart (1773–1856) in 1801 for engraving as an illustration to his Remarks on Local Scenery and Manners in Scotland during the Years 1799 and 1800 (see the print after, above) (Stoddart, 1801, p.279). Indeed, at one point it did cross my mind that the work may have been copied from another source, rather than originally having been sketched on the spot, following the discovery of a strikingly similar image by the amateur artist Thomas Sunderland (1744–1828) (see figure 1). This, however, must have been copied from the print, and I now suspect that the work was produced on commission from a sketch made in 1800, as it does not conform to the size of the watercolours that Girtin was supplying at this date to Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. Surely it is not the case that Girtin made the watercolour for reproduction, as with many of his earlier topographical views. Stoddart thus mentions in the body of his text that he was grateful to be ‘able to insert a scene from a drawing of Mr. Girtin, executed with all that spirit and effect for which he is so remarkable’, so that it was as an example of the still-living artist’s skill that the work was included, rather than for its subject. Sadly, this is very difficult to appreciate today as a result of the work’s poor, faded condition. The hand-coloured aquatint, combined with the evidence of a thin strip around the work that was once protected from the detrimental effects of light, can give only a slight idea of its original appearance, prior to the loss of all the greys in the clouds and the blues in the sky, and the complete corruption of the greens of the vegetation. Consequently, I am not sure how Girtin and Loshak justified characterising the watercolour as an ‘intensely poetic’ conception, arguing that it is ‘most spacious, for here Girtin has suggested immense depth’, since a sense of space and distance is dependent on the subtleties of aerial perspective, which is singly lacking here (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.74).

If anything the faded condition of the watercolour has enhanced what James Holloway and Lindsay Errington in their pioneering publication The Discovery of Scotland characterised as Girtin’s ‘unprecedented’ appreciation of the pictorial potential of ‘austere unenclosed expanses of rolling hill … in its melancholy starkness’ (Holloway and Errington, 1978, p.92). And this is also true of Girtin’s second view of the Eildon Hills shown in an exaggerated form beyond the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey (TG1719). That said, it must be remembered that Girtin did not travel further into Scotland and the Highlands and with the exception of these two watercolours he concentrated on more conventional picturesque and antiquarian sites in the Borders. As Holloway and Errington again note, Girtin visited the region before the publication by Walter Scott (1771–1832) of his immensely popular The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802/03) and The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) which dramatically transformed the grounds on which the landscape of the Borders might be appreciated. And, in consequence, he produced some of the last views of the area that were not suffused with poetic associations derived from Scott’s writing.

1797 - 1798

Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept Looking North


1797 - 1799

Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept from the Cloister


1800 - 1801

A Distant View of Dryburgh Abbey, with the Eildon Hills Beyond


1800 - 1801

A Distant View of Dryburgh Abbey, with the Eildon Hills Beyond


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 His photograph of the view from Dryburgh, annotated with his thoughts on Girtin's viewpoint, is in the Girtin Archive (35).

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