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Works Thomas Girtin

The River Tweed at Kelso, Looking Upstream

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1715: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The River Tweed at Kelso, Looking Upstream, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 26 × 44.1 cm, 10 ¼ × 17 ⅜ in. Courtauld Gallery, London, Samuel Courtauld Trust (D.2007.DS.18).

Photo courtesy of The Courtauld, London, Samuel Courtauld Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The River Tweed at Kelso, Looking Upstream
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
26 × 44.1 cm, 10 ¼ × 17 ⅜ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost); 'Athelstan Abbey on the banks of the Tees, Yorkshire' on the back in a later hand

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

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
490 as 'The River Tweed near Kelso'; '1802'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in March 2023


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911) (lent to London, 1875); by a settlement to his sister, Ida Johanna Hog Rogge, née Girtin (1834–1925), January 1880 as 'Weston on the River Wharfe'; sold by her to J. Palser & Sons (stock no.15470) as ‘Athelstan Abbey, Yorks’; bought by James Orrock (1829–1913), 5 February 1902, £19; bought from him by Thos. Agnew & Sons, 6 July 1902 (stock no.3909), as 'River Scene Yorkshire'; bought by Charles Morland Agnew (1855–1931), 8 February 1904, £50; then by descent to Vice-Admiral Sir William Gladstone Agnew (1898–1960); Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1979; bought by Dorothy Scharf (1942–2004), £19,500; bequeathed by her to the Gallery, 2007

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.3 as ’Weston on the River Wharfe, Yorkshire’; Agnew's, 1903, no.49 as 'Athelsten Abbey, on the Banks of the Tees'; Agnew’s, 1919, no.11 as ’Athelstan Abbey, on the Tees’; Agnew’s, 1931, no.115 as ’Athelstan Abbey’; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.36 as ’The River Tweed near Kelso’; Agnew’s, 1979, no.95; London, Courtauld, 2014, no.18


Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.87

About this Work

This fine late watercolour shows a view of the river Tweed at Kelso in the Scottish Borders looking upstream, with the Eildon Hills in the distance. Variously known as ‘Weston on the River Wharfe’ and ‘Athelstan Abbey, Tees’, the work had its subject correctly identified by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak, who noted that it shows the confluence, to the left, of the Tweed and Teviot rivers (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.202). The view was taken from the centre of the old bridge that crossed the Tees at a point close to the ruins of the abbey church of Kelso, and the same structure can be seen in the panoramic view that Girtin painted of the view looking downstream (TG1713). Although the works are not a pair, being different sizes, they share elements in common, with the tree-covered island shown in the centre here appearing to the left of the view looking in the other direction, and both images include the riverside mills that were an important part of the town’s economy. Girtin may have visited Kelso in 1800 as he is documented as having stayed nearby at Dryburgh in that year, but it is likely that the three late views of the river Tweed (the others being TG1714 and TG1716) were made from untraced sketches that were actually 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 TG1713 figure 1) and in the panoramic view of the Tweed (TG1713), was severely damaged in a storm in October 1797, leading to the collapse of the central arches, from where the sketch on which this work is based appears to have been taken. As with so many of Girtin’s river views, the raised viewpoint offered by a bridge means that the surface of the water stretches right across the foreground, providing a plane onto which the artist can work in reflections of sky, buildings and foliage, which assume a series of more or less abstract patterns in consequence. Girtin’s palette with its dominant blue tonality for the middleground trees and distant hills is surprisingly close to that of John Robert Cozens though this is perhaps the consequence of a view looking north west in the light of a still evening.

It was a ‘quality of abstraction’ that suggested to Girtin and Loshak that this watercolour dated from the last year of the artist’s life, 1802, and that it was one of a string of ‘masterpieces’ that marked ‘the summit of his achievement’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.87). Like Morpeth Bridge (TG1709), in terms of ‘style and mood’, the work was for them the epitome of the artist’s ‘final style’, which was marked by an economy of means and ‘crispness of execution’ that ensured ‘the clarity of every shape and object included in the scene’. However, the watercolour is not inscribed, and I cannot help wondering whether Girtin and Loshak’s dating of this and the other Tweed views to 1802 is not a little way off the mark, not least because what the authors take to be the way that the artist used the ‘texture of the paper’ so that the ‘wire marks impose a rhythm of their own … animating it with the pulse of their rapid oscillation’ is probably down to the drawing’s faded condition. Moreover, I cannot help thinking that the fact that Girtin is known to have visited nearby Dryburgh in 1800 distorted 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. I have consequently settled on a slightly earlier and more inclusive date than the 1802 proposed by the authors of the first Girtin catalogue.

1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


1800 - 1801

Kelso, from the River Tweed


1799 - 1800

The River Tweed at Kelso


(?) 1802

Morpeth Bridge


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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