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Works Thomas Girtin

Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1086: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 31.8 × 40.6 cm, 12 ½ × 16 in. Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of James Parmelee (1940.557).

Photo courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of James Parmelee (CC0 1.0 Universal)

Print after: Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), mezzotint, Tynemouth, 1822/23, published belatedly in Liber Naturae; or, A Collection of Prints from the Drawings of Thomas Girtin, pl.11, London, 1883, 16.3 × 23.2 cm, 6 ⅜ × 9 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1893,0612.82.12).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
31.8 × 40.6 cm, 12 ½ × 16 in
Part of
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Durham and Northumberland; Monastic Ruins

Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast (TG1085)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Museum Website


James Parmelee; bequeathed to the Museum, 1940


Cleveland, 1958, no.472; Cleveland, 1966, p.183

About this Work

This distant view of the ruins of Tynemouth Priory, on the Northumberland coast, was not included in Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak’s catalogue of Girtin’s watercolours, though it does feature in a file in the Girtin Archive titled ‘Weeds on the Wall’ (Girtin Archive, 14). Here Thomas Girtin assembled images of ‘Weeds’ – works that had been attributed to Girtin and that he thought might damage the artist’s reputation if not challenged. The photograph of this work is accompanied by a note to the effect that the watercolour, which had been wrongly titled ‘Entrance to Dover Harbour’, was in fact a copy by John Henderson (1764–1843) of a mezzotint dating from 1823–24 (see print after TG1086) made after another version of the composition (TG1085). This smaller watercolour has not been seen in public since 1903 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 9 March 1903, lot 48) and it has not been possible to test this theory, but in any case I am confidant that Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast is not only by Girtin but also the model for the mezzotint, and not the other way around, as Tom Girtin (1913–94) thought (Girtin Archive, 12). The problem for Girtin’s descendant, it seems, was that he could not look beyond the work’s extremely faded condition, which long ago left it looking like a shadow of its former state. In one of the most extreme cases of Girtin’s use of a fugitive blue pigment, presumably indigo, the sky has disappeared almost entirely, and the sea, stripped of its blue glazes, appears a dull green; it is not entirely surprising, therefore, that the artist’s descendant was so unhappy with the attribution. A strip to the right, where the watercolour has been protected from the action of light, shows something of the work’s original effect, but fading on this scale must have primarily been down to the artist’s choice of fugitive pigments.

Tynemouth, from the North

Although no on-the-spot sketch for this composition has been identified, there is every chance that it was produced on Girtin’s first independent trip away from London, to the northern counties and the Scottish Borders in 1796, as sketches made at nearby Newcastle upon Tyne clearly date from that year (for example, TG1080). Girtin had, by this date, already depicted the ruins of Tynemouth Priory in two watercolours of close-up views that were based on sketches made by his earliest patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), on his 1792 tour to the north east (TG0083 and TG0096). Given that in 1792–93 Girtin was working for a patron whose interest primarily lay in the architectural remains of the priory church, the results are not surprisingly very different in the more distant view that Girtin adopted when he visited the location for himself. As in a small watercolour of Tynemouth seen from a stormy sea, which he painted for another early patron, Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (TG0850), Girtin concentrated his attention on the sweep of the bay in what must have been one of his first ever encounters with coastal scenery. How soon after the watercolour was painted is difficult to judge because of its poor condition, but it probably dates from later than the Monro work on account of Girtin’s use of more fugitive pigments, something that occurred with increasing regularity the more distant was the memory of his master’s strictures on the subject. Edward Dayes (1763–1804) was always careful to employ a palette that stood a good chance of lasting unaffected, and there is an irony in the fact that Girtin’s choice of a northerly viewpoint in his Tynemouth view was no doubt influenced by his master, who had made the priory and its coastal setting the subject of a number of watercolours (such as figure 1).

1797 - 1798

Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast


1797 - 1798

Tynemouth Priory, from the Coast


(?) 1796



1792 - 1793

An Interior View of the Ruined East End of Tynemouth Priory Church


1792 - 1793

The East End of Tynemouth Priory Church


1796 - 1797

A Distant View of Tynemouth Priory, from the Sea


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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