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Works Thomas Girtin

The River Tweed at Kelso

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1713: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The River Tweed at Kelso, 1799–1800, watercolour on laid paper, 23.5 × 51.8 cm, 9 ¼ × 20 ⅜ in. Museum of New Zealand, Wellington (1953-0004-6).

Photo courtesy of Museum of New Zealand, Wellington (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The River Tweed at Kelso
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Watercolour on laid paper
23.5 × 51.8 cm, 9 ¼ × 20 ⅜ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Panoramic Format; River Scenery; The Scottish Borders; Wind and Water Mills

The River Tweed at Kelso (TG1714)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
491 as 'The River Tweed near Kelso'; '1802'
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


Edward Cohen (1817–86) (lent to London, 1875); then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); Christie's, 6 May 1932, lot 74; bought by 'Thomson' for the Palser Gallery, London, £65 2s; ... Thos. Agnew & Sons; bought from them by the Museum, 1953

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.57 as ’Kelso’; Agnew’s, 1931, no.96

About this Work

Francis Jukes (c.1747–1812), after Charles Catton (1756–1819), aquatint, hand-coloured, 'View of Kelso Bridge and Abbey', 20 March 1793, 46.5 × 63.8 cm, 18 ¼ × 25 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1865,0610.1066).

The view in this panoramic watercolour, showing the river Tweed at Kelso in the Scottish Borders, is taken from beyond the confluence with the river Teviot, looking south and downstream to the old bridge. This is the same view seen in a more compressed version of the composition (TG1714), and the bridge itself seems to have been the viewpoint from which another image of the river, looking upstream, was taken (TG1715), though the latter and TG1713 do not form a pair, being different sizes. The trees shown to the left in this watercolour can thus be seen in the centre of the view looking in the other direction, and both compositions include the riverside mills that were an important part of the town’s economy at this date. Girtin may have visited Kelso in 1800, as he is documented as having stayed nearby in that year, but it is likely that all four of the views of the river Tweed (the fourth being TG1716) were made from untraced sketches executed during an earlier trip in 1796 (Jenkins, Notes, 1852). This is because the old six-arched bridge, which is seen intact in an aquatint of 1793 (see figure 1), was severely damaged in a storm in October 1797 that undermined the central arches, leading them to collapse. It is just possible that Girtin chose his viewpoint on a slightly elevated position on the north bank of the river so as to obscure the damage to the centre of the bridge, meaning that the work was sketched in 1800 after all. However, the more likely explanation for what appears to be its complete state is that, although all four of the Tweed views may date from around that time, the two bridge views at least were based on earlier drawings. Certainly, the structure shown here is not the new five-arched bridge designed by John Rennie the Elder (1761–1821), which did not begin construction until 1800 and was finally opened in 1803.

The watercolour has suffered a little from fading over the years, with the greens in the distance having lost much of their tone, but this is not as significant as with many of Girtin’s later watercolours. This, combined with the fact that we now know that the work must have been based on an earlier sketch, makes me wonder whether Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak’s dating of the Tweed views to 1802 is not a little way off the mark, and, specifically, whether the fact that Girtin is recorded as having stayed at nearby Dryburgh in 1800 did not distort their thinking on the issue. Certainly, there is no evidence that the stay with the 11th Earl of Buchan (1742–1829) led to any commissions, and none of the views of Kelso or elsewhere in the Borders can be associated with him. Indeed, comparing this work with The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins (TG1229), from around 1798, it strikes me that the greater ‘quality of abstraction’ that Girtin and Loshak detected in the Tweed views might not be, at least partly, due to their condition, and that this work shares more, in terms of scale and size as well as some compositional elements, with the earlier work (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.87). Accordingly, I have settled on a different and more inclusive date than the 1802 proposed by the earlier authors.

1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


1800 - 1801

The River Tweed at Kelso, Looking Upstream


1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


1800 - 1801

Kelso, from the River Tweed


1797 - 1798

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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