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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

Warkworth Castle, Sunset

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1098: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Warkworth Castle, Sunset, 1798–99, watercolour on paper, 36.8 × 50.8 cm, 14 ½ × 20 in. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Gift of the Beaverbrook Foundation (1959/261).

Photo courtesy of The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Gift of the Beaverbrook Foundation (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Warkworth Castle, Sunset
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Watercolour on paper
36.8 × 50.8 cm, 14 ½ × 20 in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Durham and Northumberland; River Scenery

Catalogue Number


William Leader (1767–1828); John Temple Leader (1810–1903); his sale, Christie’s, 18 March 1843, lot 49 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Rought', £22 11s 6d; John Dillon (d.1869); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 29 April 1869, lot 132 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Agnew', £105; Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.9225); bought by Abel Buckley (1835–1908), 14 May 1869 (lent to Glasgow, 1901); bought from him by Thos. Agnew & Sons, 4 February 1904 (stock no.4492); bought by Thomas W. Wright, 9 June 1905, £400; his sale, Christie’s, 27 April 1923, lot 96; bought by 'Leggatt', £304; Appleby Brothers Ltd, London; Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook (1879–1964), 1957

Exhibition History

Glasgow, 1901, no.812; Agnew’s, 1905, no.36 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner


Armstrong, 1902, p.283 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Wilton, 1979, p.328 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Hill, 1996, p.199 as '(?) Turner'

About this Work

This sunset view of Warkworth Castle in Northumberland, viewed from the south east and the river Coquet, occupies an ambiguous position in the catalogue of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). Thus, although Andrew Wilton in his 1979 catalogue of the artist’s watercolours thought that it was worked up by Turner from a sketch made on his 1797 tour of the north of England (see figure 1), dating it to about 1799, other authorities have not been so sure (Wilton, 1979, p.328). Walter Armstrong, for instance, described it as a ‘Girtin-like drawing’, whilst more recently David Hill has noted that ‘the attribution to Turner seems doubtful’, again mentioning Girtin as the possible author (Armstrong, 1902, p.283; Hill, 1996, p.199). With the proviso that I have not been able to see the watercolour, which is in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, I think that there is enough evidence not just to question the attribution to Turner but also to suggest that this is a mature work by Girtin from around 1799. The key comparison is with another Turner watercolour showing the Great Tower of Warkworth from the opposite direction, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799 with the title ‘Warkworth Castle, Northumberland – thunderstorm approaching at sun-set’ (see figure 2). Features such as the busy, relatively detailed foreground with prominent figures fishing in the river, together with the complex skyscape, are typical of Turner’s more narrative-based approach to a type of landscape watercolour that made the depiction of light and weather effects central, and this was quite different from the more generalised forms seen in the smaller sunset view, where the declining light has reduced each element to its basic silhouette, much as is seen in Girtin’s Bristol Harbour (TG1727). This is of course partly due to the faded condition of the work, but that too points in the direction of Girtin because the loss of the blues in the sky and the compromising of the greens in the areas of vegetation are all too typical of the state of many of the artist’s works executed around 1800, when he was experimenting with a range of more fugitive pigments, with baleful consequences (see, for example, TG1680). One final point linking the work to Girtin is that its dimensions of roughly 37 × 51 cm (14 ½ × 20 1/8 in) conform to the artist’s standard size for larger studio works around 1799–1800.

The first owners of Warkworth Castle, Sunset, the Leader family, collected other works by both Turner and Girtin, including the latter’s great view of Bridgnorth from 1802 (TG1755), and it is quite possible that a change of attribution took place at the time of this work’s first sale in 1843 (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 18 March 1843, lot 49). Moreover, there may be a simple, alternative explanation for the watercolour’s resemblance to Turner’s on-the-spot sketch that led Wilton to conclude that both views were by him. Thus, following the suggestion of Hill, I have been able to identify as many as a dozen instances where Turner appears to have been inspired by the sight of Girtin’s sketches from his 1796 tour to adopt a similar or very close viewpoint when undertaking his own on-the-spot drawings in 1797, including a number of views of York and Durham (such as TG1075 and TG1655) (Hill, 1996, pp.4–5). Contrary to Wilton’s assertion, and in light of these examples, it seems to me that there are enough small (but not insignificant) differences between Turner’s pencil sketch (see figure 1) and the finished watercolour to suggest that the latter was inspired by a Girtin on-the-spot drawing that showed a similar but more distant view of the castle, and that it was this lost sketch that provided the basis for Warkworth Castle, Sunset.


Bristol Harbour, with St Mary Redcliffe in the Distance



Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe





1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


1796 - 1797

York: Pavement, Looking towards All Saints


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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