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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ouse Bridge, York

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1042: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ouse Bridge, York, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and scratching out on laid paper, 33.6 × 49.5 cm, 13 ¼ × 19 ½ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1931.12.1).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Ouse Bridge, York
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and scratching out on laid paper
33.6 × 49.5 cm, 13 ¼ × 19 ½ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)

Object Type
Exhibition Watercolour; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

The Ouse Bridge, York (TG1041)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
153ii as '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2016


Edward Cohen (1817–86) (lent to London, 1875; London, 1877); then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); J. Palser & Sons; bought by Arthur Edward Anderson (c.1871–1938), 1931; presented to the Museum, 1931

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.111 as 'Old Ouse Bridge, York'; London, 1877, no.301; Oxford, 1974, no.29 as 'The Old Ouse Bridge, York'


Mayne, 1949, p.100; White, 1977, p.118; Wilkinson, 1972, p.36; Brown, 1982, p.337, no.735; Hill, 2005, p.11

About this Work

This view of the sixteenth-century bridge spanning the river Ouse is one of two watercolours that Girtin made from an untraced sketch that was probably made on his visit to York in the course of his first independent tour in 1796. The other watercolour (TG1041), in the collection of the British Museum, is slightly smaller, though it includes more of the riverside buildings to the right, and it is almost certainly earlier in date, probably being the work shown at the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition in 1797. This watercolour, in contrast, employs a more sombre palette that, despite the work’s poor, faded condition, adds a greater sense of drama to what in the earlier work comes across as a rather bland image. As Gerald Wilkinson has noted, the result is an image of a ‘slow Yorkshire river’, rather than a reimagining of the bridge as a Venetian scene as was the case with many of the views of the Ouse at York painted by Girtin’s contemporaries, including Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (Wilkinson, 1972, p.36). Arguably, this was Girtin’s problem too in the earlier version of the composition, where he matched what Edward Dayes (1763–1804) described as ‘a scene that would have delighted Cannaletti’, with a sunny light effect that might have suited one of the older master’s ‘finest Venetian views’ but that in this case appears merely bland when applied to a northern British scene (Dayes, 1825, p.179). There is no such problem here, though, where cropping the composition to the right and employing a darker palette has helped to create a bold massing of forms from the buildings that then occupied the west end of the old bridge over the Ouse, ‘the Great Council Chamber, and the Prison for Debtors and Felons’, which Dayes thought added so much to ‘the picturesque character of this fine scene’. But aside from the boat lowering its mast, which actually replicates the vessel shown in the earlier view, Girtin still chose to make little of the ‘craft, and a multitude of busy figures employed in loading and unloading the vessels’, which for Dayes were an integral part of the scene (Dayes, 1825, p.180). This is curious because this is precisely the element that Girtin makes such good use of in the outstanding view of the Ouse Bridge from the opposite direction that he produced in 1800 (TG1649), and, as with the earlier version of the scene, this watercolour is strangely underpopulated.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a buff laid wrapping paper manufactured by an unknown English maker, and the numerous discoloured spots visible in the sky in particular point to its utilitarian quality (Bower, Report). This is probably the same paper used in a variety of works, including The Ogwen Falls (TG1330), Plymouth (TG1753) and York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern (TG1652). The Plymouth view is dated 1801 whilst the others were produced in 1798 at the very earliest, all of which confirms that this version of the composition was produced significantly later than TG1041.

1796 - 1797

The Ouse Bridge, York



The Ouse Bridge, York


1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls





1800 - 1801

York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern


1796 - 1797

The Ouse Bridge, York


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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