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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ruins of Spofforth Castle, near Harewood

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1538: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ruins of Spofforth Castle, near Harewood, 1799–1800, graphite on wove paper, 11.4 × 17.5 cm, 4 ½ × 6 ⅞ in. Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum / The Wilson.

Photo courtesy of Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum / The Wilson (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Ruins of Spofforth Castle, near Harewood
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
11.4 × 17.5 cm, 4 ½ × 6 ⅞ in
Part of
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2008


Arthur Henry Holland-Hibbert, 3rd Viscount Knutsford (1855–1935); his sale, Sotheby's, 11 April 1935, lot 66, one of three; bought by Tancred Borenius for Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882–1947), £7; then by descent to George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood (1923–2011); his sale, Christie’s, 13 July 1965, lot 165 as 'The Ruins of Spofforth Abbey, near Knaresborough'; bought by 'Agnew', 75 gns; Thos. Agnew & Sons; Stephen Pyke; bequeathed to the Gallery, 2003


Hill, 1999, p.44

About this Work

This view of the fourteenth-century fortified manor house at Spofforth, between Harrogate and Wetherby, is one of a significant group of sketches that Girtin executed in the vicinity of Harewood House, probably on his visit to Yorkshire in the summer of 1799 or 1800. The subjects include seven views taken along the river Nidd at Knaresborough (TG1509TG1510TG1511, TG1512, TG1539, TG1542 and TG1589), three views made in or near Wetherby (TG1641, TG1645 and TG1646) and another view of Spofforth itself (TG1586). Each of the drawings was executed on a piece of wove paper of roughly the same vertical dimensions, and there is some evidence that they were all removed from a sketchbook. Two other drawings on the same paper have matching holes, which suggests that they had been bound into a book (TG1508a and TG1525). The latter sketch (Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea) is missing a small section, which, as a later copy indicates (TG1601), must have strayed onto the opposite page. It seems that on just this one occasion Girtin did execute his sketches in a book, though, as the paper historian Peter Bower has argued, it is unlikely that this was made commercially, and it may be that the artist himself assembled sheets of paper into a convenient gathering which would account for slight variations in their size (Bower, 2002, p.141). Whatever the case, this sheet is likely to have featured amongst the ‘180 Sketches’ or ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’ that John Girtin (1773–1821) records taking possession of following the artist’s death in November 1802 and which he subsequently sold on the art market (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1

Part of the Ruins of Spofforth Castle

This sketch does not seem to have been used as the basis for a finished watercolour, though others from the group were, including Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresbourough (TG1589) and Wetherby: Looking through the Bridge to the Mills (TG1536), and Girtin may have employed the book to show his compositions to potential clients. Prime amongst these was no doubt Edward Lascelles (1764–1814), who in all probability hosted Girtin during his stay in Yorkshire at nearby Harewood House and who is said to have had a room put aside for the artist to work in (Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.96). Spofforth is just a few kilometres away, and Girtin could have easily visited on a short excursion from Harewood, perhaps at the behest of Lascelles himself as the subject was not well known. Indeed, this may explain why, unusually for Girtin, the artist appears to have been following in the footsteps of his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), who sketched Spofforth on his visit to Harewood in 1797 (see figure 1). As many as a dozen of the sketches executed by Turner on that tour demonstrate his knowledge of the drawings made by Girtin on his trip to the north east in 1796 (see TG1073 and  TG1073 figure 1). However, Harewood was not on Girtin's earlier itinerary and, as with Plumpton Rocks (TG1552), this view sees Girtin catching up with his contemporary’s work for Lascelles.

1799 - 1800

Grimbald Bridge, near Knaresborough


1799 - 1800

A Crag on the River Nidd


1799 - 1800

Knaresborough Castle, from the High Bridge


1799 - 1800

Bilton Banks, on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough


1799 - 1800

Knaresborough, from the North West


1799 - 1800

Knaresborough, Looking across Bilton Banks


1799 - 1800

Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough


1799 - 1800

Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir


1799 - 1800

Wetherby Mills


1799 - 1800

Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby


1799 - 1800

Spofforth, with the Tower of All Saints Church


1799 - 1800

Cottages at Hawes, from Gayle Beck


1799 - 1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea


(?) 1801

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea


1799 - 1800

Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough


1799 - 1800

Wetherby: Looking through the Bridge to the Mills


(?) 1796

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


(?) 1800

Plumpton Rocks, near Knaresborough


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Details are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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