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Works Thomas Girtin

Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1641: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir, (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (possibly with a discoloured fixative), 11.6 × 17.4 cm, 4 ½ × 6 ⅞ in. Private Collection, Hertfordshire.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir
Date
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (possibly with a discoloured fixative)
Dimensions
11.6 × 17.4 cm, 4 ½ × 6 ⅞ in
Part of
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch; Replica by Girtin
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Wind and Water Mills; Yorkshire View

Collection
Versions
Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir (TG1535)
Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir (TG1642)
Catalogue Number
TG1641
Description Source(s)
Viewed in March 2022

Provenance

Possibly George Hibbert (1757–1837); then by descent

About this Work

This sketch, depicting the view from the weir to the bridge over the river Wharfe, is one of a group of seven studies of roughly the same size that show scenes in or near Wetherby (TG1645 and TG1646), Knaresborough and the river Nidd (TG1539, TG1542 and TG1589), and the nearby village of Spofforth (TG1586). The sketches, all from the same private collection, appear to be part of a larger group of studies that Girtin executed in the vicinity of Harewood House, probably on his visit to Yorkshire in the summer of 1799 or 1800. Each of the drawings was executed on a piece of wove paper of roughly the same vertical dimensions, and there is some evidence that they were removed from a sketchbook, though when, and by whom, is not clear. Two other drawings on the same paper have matching holes, which suggests that they had been bound into a book (TG1508a and TG1525). One of these sketches – Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (TG1525) – is missing a small section, which, as a later copy indicates (TG1601), must have strayed onto the opposite page. It seems that on just this one occasion Girtin did execute his sketches in a book, though, as the paper historian Peter Bower has argued, it is unlikely that this was made commercially, and it may be that the artist himself assembled sheets of paper into a convenient gathering, which would account for slight variations in their size (Bower, 2002, p.141). Whatever the case, this sheet is likely to have featured amongst the ‘180 Sketches’ or ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’ that the artist’s brother, John Girtin (1773–1821), recorded taking possession of following the artist’s death in November 1802 and that he subsequently sold on (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1

Girtin repeated this attractive composition in a studio watercolour that appears to date from around 1800 (TG1642). In the case of the closely related sketch Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby (TG1646), we can say with some confidence that it was used as the basis for a studio watercolour (TG1647), but this view of the river Wharfe at Wetherby exists in a second version that also appears to be by Girtin (TG1535). It is slightly wider, but, as the process of overlaying images of the two drawings demonstrates, although this sheet adopts a different palette – spoilt by what appears to be the discolouration of a fixitive – in other respects they are indistinguishable, all of which begs the question of which is the work made on the spot and which, therefore, is the replica produced in the studio. There are three other examples of Girtin producing replicas of his on-the-spot sketches at this date, and in two of the cases – Middleham Village, with the Castle Beyond (TG1508 and TG1620) and Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (TG1525 and TG1601) – there is evidence in the form of dates and watermarks that the versions found in the Whitworth Book of Drawings postdate the on-the-spot sketch by at least a year. In this case, however, there is no clear indication of which drawing was made from nature, but one must be a copy and I suspect it is the other version (TG1535) that is the replica, and I would point to the inclusion of decorative details such as the five gulls circling the bridge as well as a more careful application of colour. In fact, the colouring of this study, as well as the other sketches made in and around Wetherby (TG1645 and TG1646), is quite crude in places, and it lacks the inventive pattern-making that I associate with Girtin’s work on the spot. Indeed, at one time I seriously considered the possibility that the washes of colour on similar sketches were added subsequently to an outline drawing by another hand – and, given that the artist’s brother had access to the ‘Sketches’ left behind in the studio at his death, it is not impossible that it was he who was responsible in an effort to make the works more saleable. However, the same argument can be made in favour of Girtin’s authorship, and I now suspect that the colouring was added by him in the studio to an on-the-spot outline drawing to enhance the impression of a sketch worked from nature, something that might have had an extra appeal to supportive collectors. In which case, could it be that having found a purchaser, Girtin then made a replica of his own sketch that might subsequently be used to produce studio watercolours, meaning that the ‘original’ sketch – possibly this work – was not necessarily employed as the basis for TG1642? This is hardly a watertight case, but perhaps the more important point is that the difficulties we have in distinguishing the replica from the on-the-spot study tell us a lot about Girtin’s pioneering role in the commodification of the sketch at this date.

(?) 1800

Wetherby Mills

TG1645

(?) 1800

Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby

TG1646

1799 - 1800

Knaresborough, from the North West

TG1539

1799 - 1800

Knaresborough, Looking across Bilton Banks

TG1542

1799 - 1800

Buildings on the River Nidd, near Knaresborough

TG1589

1799 - 1800

Spofforth, with the Tower of All Saints Church

TG1586

1799 - 1800

Cottages at Hawes, from Gayle Beck

TG1508a

1799 - 1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea

TG1525

1799 - 1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea

TG1525

(?) 1801

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea

TG1601

(?) 1800

Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir

TG1642

(?) 1800

Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby

TG1646

1800

Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby

TG1647

(?) 1800

Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir

TG1535

1799

Middleham Village, with the Castle Beyond

TG1508

(?) 1801

Middleham Village, with the Castle Beyond

TG1620

1799 - 1800

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea

TG1525

(?) 1801

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea

TG1601

(?) 1800

Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir

TG1535

(?) 1800

Wetherby Mills

TG1645

(?) 1800

Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby

TG1646

(?) 1800

Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir

TG1642

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  1. 1 Details are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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