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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ouse Bridge, York, from Skeldergate Postern

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1045: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ouse Bridge, York, from Skeldergate Postern, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 29.5 × 52 cm, 11 ⅝ × 20 ½ in. York Art Gallery (R1704).

Photo courtesy of York Museums Trust, York Art Gallery (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Ouse Bridge, York, from Skeldergate Postern
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
29.5 × 52 cm, 11 ⅝ × 20 ½ in

‘T GIRTIN’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

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

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
180 as 'The Ouse Bridge, York'; '1796–7'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Sydney Turner; W. H. Lee-Warner; Christie’s, 16 July 1926, lot 49 as 'A View of York from the Ouse'; bought by Messrs. Pawsey & Payne, £29 8s; Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1943

Exhibition History

Leeds, 1937, no.15; Agnew’s, 1943, no.73, £80; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.8

About this Work

This view of the Ouse Bridge, York, with Skeldergate Postern to the right, was presumably based on a study that Girtin made on his first independent tour in 1796. Sketches made on the trip to the northern counties and the Scottish Borders, together with the watercolours that Girtin developed from them, include the artist’s first essays in a more panoramic mode, and it is intriguing to note that the format was initially employed to capture the experience of a built environment (TG1229) rather than the coastal views he encountered in the West Country in 1797. In this case, the extended view includes more of the city’s architectural and antiquarian highlights than the comparable scene shown in The New Walk on the Banks of the Ouse (TG1046), which was taken from slightly further downriver. From left to right, the fourteenth-century postern, which was demolished in 1808, gives way to the Ouse Bridge itself with St William’s Chapel built onto the superstructure, whilst the tower of St Michael Spurriergate is seen beyond that. From this angle, more of the commercial life of the river is visible, but this is balanced by the figures promenading along the bank going to and from the New Walk, the fashionable walkway that features in the view looking north.

The watercolour is badly faded, the combined result of prolonged exposure to high light levels and, equally, Girtin’s misjudged use of fugitive pigments. In contrast to The New Walk on the Banks of the Ouse, where the blues and greens have largely remained fast, this work is a shadow of its former appearance, making dating difficult. However, it may be that its poor condition indicates a later date than the 1796–97 proposed by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak, since, as a general rule, Girtin introduced more fugitive pigments into his palette the further he moved away from the influence of his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), whose Instructions for Drawing and Coloring Landscapes illustrate a clear understanding of the science of colour (Dayes, Works, pp.298–311).1 A later date also suggests a different explanation for the idiosyncratic appearance of the medieval postern to that proposed by Girtin and Loshak. Dating the work to immediately after Girtin’s return from his tour to the northern counties, they saw it as an early experiment in the panoramic mode, arguing that the postern ‘fails to cohere with the rest of the composition’, describing it as ‘both top-heavy and lop-sided’ and stating that it thus ‘draws attention to the ungainly width of the whole scene’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.60). Dating it to, say, three years later, I see the same feature as typical of the sorts of radical cut-offs and disjunctions that came to be such mainstays of Girtin’s important contribution to the development of a modern imagery for the city, which was to culminate in the studies that the artist made for his London panorama (for example, see TG1854). The postern is certainly ‘ungainly’, but it was there when Girtin made his sketch, and its dominant presence in the watercolour helps to create the sense of a scene experienced rather than a composition created.

1797 - 1798

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins


1796 - 1797

York: The New Walk on the Banks of the Ouse


(?) 1801

Westminster and Lambeth: Colour Study for the ‘Eidometropolis’, Section Three


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Dayes’ well-informed text was published posthumously in 1805 in The Works of the Late Edward Dayes and is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1805 – Item 2).

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