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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

The River Tweed, at Kelso

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1714: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The River Tweed, at Kelso, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 26.7 × 32.4 cm, 10 ½ × 12 ¾ in. Tate (N04360).

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The River Tweed, at Kelso
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
26.7 × 32.4 cm, 10 ½ × 12 ¾ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; The Scottish Borders

The River Tweed at Kelso (TG1713)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
352 as 'The River Tweed near Kelso ... Probably done on the spot'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Sir James Thomas Knowles (1831–1908); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 28 May 1908, lot 262 as 'Landscape Studies (5)'; bought by 'Palser', £16; J. Palser & Sons; James Richardson Holliday (c.1841–1927); bequeathed to the Gallery, 1927


Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.83

About this Work

This frankly perplexing work shows a view of the river Tweed at Kelso in the Scottish Borders, taken from near the confluence with the river Teviot and looking downstream to the old bridge. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak argued that it was painted on the spot during the artist’s second visit to the area in 1800, and that it therefore formed the basis for a much extended, panoramic version of the composition (TG1713) that they dated to the last year of Girtin’s life, 1802 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.83 and 182). Girtin may indeed have visited Kelso in 1800, but it is unlikely that this view was sketched on the spot in that year, as the old six-arched bridge, shown as the focal point of the composition, was by this date partially demolished, with its replacement only in the early stages of construction. The old bridge (see TG1713 figure 1) had been severely damaged in a storm in October 1797, leading to the collapse of the central arches, so if the watercolour was worked on the spot it would have had to have been painted during the 1796 visit. And therein lies the problem, because in terms of style it does not resemble any of the colour sketches that the artist made on that trip. Moreover, assuming that Girtin and Loshak are wrong, and the watercolour was made in the studio, we still have the issue that it again differs significantly from the other Tweed views (TG1713, TG1715 and TG1716), in terms of both the palette employed and the level of finish. The work has faded slightly and the sky has all but disappeared, but that would not be enough to change the appearance of a studio work such that it resembles an on-the-spot sketch.

Harewood Castle

One solution to the quandary of the watercolour’s status and date was suggested by David Hill, who thought that it might not be by Girtin after all, naming the obscure artist Abraham Wood (unknown dates) as the possible author (see figure 1) who presumably copied and adapted the panoramic composition (Research File, Tate Britain). Leaving aside the name of Wood, Hill may have a valid point in questioning the attribution, and at one time I also wondered whether another hand had not been involved in the work, but following conservation treatment ahead of the 2002 Girtin bicentenary exhibition I concluded that very pedestrian passages such as the trees in the background were more than compensated by other areas where, as with the houses to the left, the watercolour washes are admirably done. It may of course be that Girtin made the watercolour on the spot in 1800 after all, and that he adopted a viewpoint where the collapse of the bridge was not evident, but that would have been very uncharacteristic of the artist, and so I suspect that the date, status and even the attribution itself still need more work to be resolved.


1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


1800 - 1801

The River Tweed at Kelso, Looking Upstream


1800 - 1801

Kelso, from the River Tweed


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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