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Works Thomas Girtin

Warkworth Hermitage


Primary Image: TG1096: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Warkworth Hermitage, 1798, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper, 43.2 × 56 cm, 17 × 22 ⅛ in. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (45-1878).

Photo courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: Joseph Powell (c.1778–1840), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), engraving, Walkworth Hermitage, 4 July 1801, 45 × 56.5 cm, 17 ¾ × 22 ¼ in. Grosvenor Prints.

Photo courtesy of Grosvenor Prints (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Warkworth Hermitage
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on laid paper
43.2 × 56 cm, 17 × 22 ⅛ in

‘Girtin 98’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Exhibition Watercolour; Studio Watercolour; Visible Fold in the Paper
Subject Terms
Durham and Northumberland; Trees and Woods

Warkworth Hermitage (TG1095)
Warkworth Hermitage (TG1097)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Bought, 1878

Exhibition History

Royal Academy, London, 1799, no.396 as ’Warkworth Hermitage, Northumberland’ (Morning Herald, 1 May 1799); Harrogate, 1930, no.183; Manchester, 1975, no.31; London, 1976, no.60; Newcastle, 1982, no.83; Sudbury, 1991, no.47; London, 2002, no.47


Davies, 1924, p.27; V&A, 1927, p.231; Mayne, 1949, p.48, p.98; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.65; Lambourne and Hamilton, 1980, p.151; Goodall, 2006, pp.28–31

About this Work

This impressive watercolour is one of two large versions of a composition (the other being TG1097) that Girtin created from an on-the-spot colour sketch (TG1095) made on his first independent tour, to the northern counties and the Scottish Borders in 1796. It shows the fourteenth-century chapel hewn out of rock at Warkworth on the river Coquet, together with, in the foreground, the ruined priest’s house, which by this date had acquired the name of a hermitage, even though there is no evidence that it ever ‘functioned as a secluded dwelling for a religious recluse’ (Goodall, 2006, p.29). This is the only signed and dated studio watercolour that Girtin produced in 1798, so it is of some importance in establishing the chronology of his work. Moreover, this work had further significance for the artist, appearing at the following year’s exhibition at the Royal Academy, where, although it was somewhat overshadowed by the large view of mountainous scenery near Beddgelert (TG1322), it attracted some favourable comment (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1799, no.396). The Morning Herald thus noted that it ‘and several other pictures of a similar description, by GIRTIN, add not a little to the professional reputation of that Gentleman. The views are exquisitely fine, and the perspectives executed in the first style of excellence’ (Morning Herald, 1 May 1799).

Girtin’s choice of subject was nicely calculated to attract attention, as the ‘deep romantic valley’ of the river Coquet, site of the fourteenth-century ‘hermitage’, had already inspired a number of artists keen to illustrate the location of a popular ballad by Thomas Percy (1729–1811) The Hermit of Warkworth (1771):

Deep-hewn within a craggy cliff,

And over-hung with wood.

'The Hermitage at Warkworth'

Visitors to the site in Northumberland often carried with them a copy of the sentimental tale of thwarted romantic love and selfless devotion to religion, and its highly coloured descriptions of the site’s sequestered charms conditioned their response to the scene and their expectations from any representation of it. Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) obligingly included four of the characters from the ballad in his view (see figure 1). Girtin was more circumspect about evoking links with the poem, and his view noticeably departs from Hearne’s more accurate topography in order to reinforce the melancholic and solitary associations of the site. Thus, instead of the river appearing to the right, he enclosed the scene with another grove of trees, amongst which can be found a solitary indistinct figure, though he retained the overhanging trees of Hearne’s view. These recall a motif made familiar by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) in his views of the Galleria di Sopra, above Lake Albano (see TG1404 figure 1), though for many viewers at the Academy the air of seclusion in Girtin’s view may have evoked memories of Richard Wilson’s (1713/14–82) even better-known Solitude (see TG1270 figure 1), where a similar combination of rocks and trees creates a mood of pensive reverie.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid wrapping paper by an unknown English maker, probably a whole sheet (Smith, 2002b, p.73; Bower, Report). Prominent in the centre of the drawing is a vertical fold, which was the result of the way that handmade sheets of paper were left to dry looped over a rope at this date. The appearance of the unsightly result in so many of Girtin’s works shows that he was happy to ignore the effect that this had, but, whilst this is understandable in an on-the-spot sketch, such as Newcastle upon Tyne (TG1080), it must have taken inordinate confidence in the young artist to incorporate such a disruptive element into a major exhibition piece. With time, though, as William Henry Pyne (1770–1843) noted, this wilful disregard for norms of finish came to be prized by collectors as a ‘sign of originality’ and ‘genius’ (Pyne, 1823a, p.67). The condition of the work, unlike the second version of the composition, is basically good and the sky has retained its bright colouring, though a narrow strip to the left, which must have been protected by an earlier mount, shows that it has faded a little and there is some degree of flattening in the foliage. The artist has scratched out a number of areas in the trees, which have then been washed over with yellow so as to create highlights that are noticeably more textural than was commonly the case, and this, combined with the work’s impressive scale, would no doubt have helped to make a strong impression within the exhibition space.

The work is also notable for the impressive engraving from it, which was produced by T. Powell (unknown dates) and published by Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835) in July 1801 (see the print after, above). Reynolds, who acted as Girtin’s representative, presumably owned the watercolour, and he paid Powell twenty-five guineas ‘for engraving a Plate from a Drawing by Girtin’, though ‘50Gs’ seems to have been the original fee agreed upon (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1

The engraving reproduces the watercolour on the same large scale and follows it very closely, only adding a seated figure and a dog to the left. A disturbance to the surface of the drawing in this area suggests that these may have originally featured here too, and a shadowy dog can still be seen. A number of copies of the print by other artists are in existence, including an example in the collection of The Whitworth, Manchester (D.1934.33).

1798 - 1799

Warkworth Hermitage


(?) 1796

Warkworth Hermitage


1798 - 1799

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert


(?) 1796



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).

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