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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ouse Bridge, York

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1041: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ouse Bridge, York, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 27.5 × 38.3 cm, 10 ⅞ × 15 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.31).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Ouse Bridge, York
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
27.5 × 38.3 cm, 10 ⅞ × 15 ⅛ in
Object Type
Exhibition Watercolour; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; River Scenery; Yorkshire View

The Ouse Bridge, York (TG1042)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
153i as '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

(?) Royal Academy, London, 1797, no.789 as ’View of Ouse Bridge, York’


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.43; Davies, 1924, pl.47; Hardie, 1934, p.11, p.14; Wilson and Mee, 2002, p.84

About this Work

This view of the sixteenth-century bridge in York spanning the river Ouse is one of two watercolours that Girtin made from an untraced sketch that was probably taken in the course of his first independent tour in 1796 (the other being TG1042). Girtin sent four works with the title ‘View of York’ to the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy in the following year (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1797, nos.486, 489, 499 and 726) along with a ‘View of Ouse Bridge, York’ (no.789). This watercolour, although not dated, appears to have been the latter exhibit, as the larger version of the composition seems to date from a few years later and there is no other obvious candidate. It is difficult not to feel a sense of disappointment at the thought that this work was chosen by the artist to represent his progress in the public forum of the Somerset House exhibition space, because although there are some effective passages in the water, otherwise the work is bland if not lifeless, though there is no question about its attribution. The sky, in particular, lacks character and, aside from the boat in the foreground, Girtin makes little out of a busy quayside scene that is strangely quiet. For once, a comparison with the work of Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), is not necessarily to the advantage of the younger artist, since Dayes’ view from the east bank of the Ouse looking south makes a more dramatic impact (see figure 1), with St William’s Chapel to the right, seen from below and silhouetted against the moonlit sky. If it was not known for sure that Girtin visited York in 1796, it might have been tempting to conclude from the visual evidence that the artist based his view on the work of one of the numerous artists who sketched the bridge around this date.

The likeliest candidate if we were seeking a source for Girtin’s view would of course be Dayes himself, who was particularly taken by the potential of the Ouse Bridge as a subject. As he noted in his posthumously published A Picturesque Tour in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, ‘The Ouse Bridge … with the surrounding objects … composes a scene that would have delighted Canaletti, and rivals many of his finest Venetian views’ (see figure 2). Much of ‘the picturesque character of this fine scene’, Dayes continued, stems from the structures on the bridge, ‘the Great Council Chamber, and the Prison for Debtors and Felons’, as well as the ‘irregular buildings that decorate the banks of the river’ and the ‘craft, and a multitude of busy figures employed in loading and unloading the vessels’ (Dayes, 1825, pp.179–80). All of this might have been written to describe the view of the bridge that Girtin produced in 1800 (TG1649), but he singularly fails to achieve it in this earlier version.

What was described as an unfinished variation of this composition was recorded in a private collection in 1971, but it has not been possible to trace a photograph of the work. Measuring 25.6 × 42.2 cm (10 ⅛ × 15 ⅝ in), the watercolour is smaller than the two versions of this composition that can, with some certainty, be said to be by Girtin.

1798 - 1799

The Ouse Bridge, York



The Ouse Bridge, York


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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