For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

Warkworth Church


Primary Image: TG1710: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Warkworth Church, 1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 31.2 × 46.7 cm, 12 ¼ × 17 ½ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1931.12).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Warkworth Church
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
31.2 × 46.7 cm, 12 ¼ × 17 ½ in

‘Girtin, 1800’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; Gothic Architecture: Parish Church

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


James Mitan (1776–1822) (lent to London, 1822); his posthumous sale, Foster’s, 20 March 1823, lot 65; ... Vicar Brothers; bought from them by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.8229), 9 February 1914; bought by Annie Cunliffe-Lister (1856–1929), 7 October 1918, £131 5s; her posthumous sale, Christie's, 28 November 1930, lot 127; bought by 'Walker', 89 gns; Walker’s Galleries, London; Arthur Edward Anderson (c.1871–1938); presented by him to the Museum, 1931

Exhibition History

London, 1822, no.70 as ’Warksworth Church’


Mayne, 1949, p.100; Brown, 1982, pp.338–39, no.738 with the comment: 'the attribution to Girtin does not seem conclusive'

About this Work

This very faded watercolour shows the spire of the church of St Lawrence at Warkworth in Northumberland, with the river Coquet in the foreground. The church is situated under the shadow of the celebrated castle, and the building can be seen to the left of two early watercolours that Girtin produced from the sketches of his first significant patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99) (TG0121 and TG0177). Girtin visited the site for himself a few years later, in 1796, when he made a number of sketches of the castle (TG1093) and the village at Warkworth together with the famous ‘hermitage’ (TG1095). These provided him with subjects that he was to return to throughout the remainder of his career (for example,TG1096 and TG1711). All of these are standard compositions that have precedents or parallels in the work of contemporary artists, including Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), but none depicted the site in such an obscure and unconventional way as this, with a humble row of cottages half obscured by a featureless wall, which in turn effaces any trace of the significant Norman church except from part of the tower, topped by its distinctive fourteenth-century spire. The daring nature of a composition that reverses the standard hierarchy of topographical interest, placing a wall ahead of a picturesque Gothic church with a humble rustic group added for good measure, is, however, sadly compromised by the watercolour’s very poor condition. This was such that it led David Brown in his catalogue of the collection of drawings of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, to conclude that ‘the attribution to Girtin does not seem conclusive’ (Brown, 1982, p.339). The signature and date, however, seem absolutely authentic, and I cannot think of anyone else at this date who would have produced such a daring and subversive composition. However, the fact is that its impact has been quite spoilt by Girtin’s choice of fugitive pigments, which has seen, just as in Warkworth Hermitage (TG1097), the loss of all of the sky, both the grey clouds and the blue spaces in between, and all of the greens of the grass and the foliage. A sublime view of a dramatically located castle or a carefully composed picturesque view might still be effective despite such a deterioration, but, stripped of the full range of its subtle tints, Girtin’s watercolour in this case no longer convinces or engages.

Such is the fate of so many of the artist’s later watercolours, and there is indeed some evidence that this work was one of those Girtin supplied around 1800–1801 to Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. Thus, the work conforms to the smaller of the standard sizes that Girtin made for Reynolds to dispose of on the open market, drawings that the latter valued at four guineas each in late 1801 (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1 The fact that the watercolour is dated is also a telling sign. Prior to 1800, the artist inscribed only one or two of his works annually, but this number rose to over thirty in that year and twenty in the following. It seems that the change in his practice was governed by the need to prove to the market that his agent was not hawking old, unsold stock.



1792 - 1793

Warkworth Castle, from the River Coquet


1792 - 1793

Warkworth Castle, from the River Coquet


(?) 1796

Warkworth Castle, from the River Coquet


(?) 1796

Warkworth Hermitage



Warkworth Hermitage


1800 - 1801

Warkworth Castle, from the River Coquet


1798 - 1799

Warkworth Hermitage


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The details are contained in a letter from Reynolds to Sawrey Gilpin (1733–1807). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4).

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.