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Works Thomas Girtin

Warkworth Hermitage

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1097: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Warkworth Hermitage, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 43.2 × 59.8 cm, 17 × 23 ½ in. Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (1953P228).

Photo courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Warkworth Hermitage
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
43.2 × 59.8 cm, 17 × 23 ½ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin (over an earlier signature, with the beginning of another signature to the left)

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

Warkworth Hermitage (TG1095)
Warkworth Hermitage (TG1096)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
238i as '1797–8'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and April 2024


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911) (lent to London, 1875); by a settlement to his sister, Ida Johanna Hog Rogge, née Girtin (1834–1925), January 1880; sold by her to J. Palser & Sons (stock no.15467); bought by Claude Tryon (d.1949), 7 April 1919; his sale, Christie's, 15 December 1939, no.95; bought by 'Harley', £11 11s; Leggatt Brothers, London, 1948; James Leslie Wright (1862–1954); presented to the Museum, 1953

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.76; Leggatt Brothers, 1948, no.51; Spink’s, London, 1948, no.63; London, 1949, no.208; Trento, 1993, no.9; Birmingham, 2010, no.17


Rose, 1980, p.57

About this Work

This badly faded watercolour is one of two large versions of a composition (the other being TG1096) 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). The effect of the fading on the drawing can be judged by strips to the right and to the bottom, which, because they were protected by a mount at some earlier time, retain something of their original colours. This shows that, in comparison with the other version of the composition, the blues from the sky have been lost and large areas of green foliage have faded to a dull muddy tonality, flattening out their forms. Additionally, a small area in the bottom right, measuring about 4 × 2.5 cm (c.1 ⅝ × 1 in), has been cut out and then reset into the sheet, though for what reason is unclear. The work’s poor condition, and the rather summary handling of the washes of colour that remain, means that it appears inferior to the version that is dated 1798 (TG1096), so much so that it is not unreasonable to question the attribution and ask whether the work is actually by a copyist. Indeed, any inferior version of a work by Girtin that has been reproduced as a print must be viewed with an element of suspicion, as there is always the possibility that it was either copied by an amateur artist from the engraving (see print after TG1096) or, conversely, produced as part of the reproduction process, acting as a model for the engraver to work from when the original was returned to its owner. The latter is perhaps the likelier option here, but even so, I suspect that the watercolour, despite its deficiencies, is still by Girtin, and that it was produced at a slightly later date, when the artist was more inclined to employ fugitive pigments. The use in this work of indigo (for the blue sky) and gamboge (for the yellow that is mixed with it for the greens of the vegetation) would be enough to account for the different appearance of the watercolours, though without any technical analysis this is a matter of speculation. The detail that clinches the attribution to Girtin of both works for me is the presence of a vertical mark about a centimetre wide in the same central position. This resulted from the manufacturing process of the paper used by Girtin, in which the sheet was left to dry out by draping it over a rope, and the fact that the artist was happy to ignore the intrusive effect that resulted marked him out to contemporaries as wilful in the extreme. Whilst it is just about possible to accept that a copyist might have chosen to adopt the same fugitive pigments as Girtin, it is surely inconceivable that they would have replicated such an unsightly feature.

The result of the poor condition of the watercolour is that we are not so inclined to examine the iconography of a composition that in its unfaded state is full of interest. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak described the composition as ‘peculiarly unpleasant’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.65). Whilst that is unfair, it is true that unlike the similarly damaged view Durham Cathedral and Castle (TG1074), this work lacks a structure strong enough to withstand the deleterious effects of its fading, and the carefully calibrated associations of the earlier view of the ‘hermitage’ barely register here.


Warkworth Hermitage


(?) 1796

Warkworth Hermitage



Warkworth Hermitage



Warkworth Hermitage



Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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