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Works Thomas Girtin

York Minster, from the Ouse, with St Mary’s Abbey

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1049: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), York Minster, from the Ouse, with St Mary's Abbey, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 34 × 48.9 cm, 13 ⅜ × 19 ¼ in. Harewood House (HHTP:2001.2.21).

Photo courtesy of The Earl and Countess of Harewood and Harewood House Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • York Minster, from the Ouse, with St Mary’s Abbey
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
34 × 48.9 cm, 13 ⅜ × 19 ¼ in

‘Girtin’ on the boat, lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Monastic Ruins; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
190 as 'York Minster'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 1999


Edward Cohen (1817–86) (lent to London, 1875); then by bequest to his niece, Isabella Oswald (1838–1905); her posthumous sale, Robins and Hine, 29 March 1905, lot unknown; bought by J. Palser & Sons, £22 2s, for Sir Edward Marsh (1872–1953); bought from him by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.9709), 3 May 1920; bought by Henry George Charles Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882–1947), 10 June 1921, £250; then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.87 as 'York Minster'; Harewood, 1999, no.31


Borenius, 1936, no.310; Piper, 1942, p.21; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.211 (confusing it with no.190); Hill, 1995, pp.37–39; Hill, 1996, p.147; Wilson and Mee, 2002, p.72

About this Work

This distant view of York Minster from the river Ouse includes the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey to the left and the fourteenth-century Water Tower in the foreground, with the Hospitium, or guest house, just behind. This last ancient building, as David Hill has shown, was then in use as a boatyard, which made a living from ‘servicing and building coal barges’, one of which can be seen on the river at St Mary’s Landing, and extensive piles of timber provide further evidence of its current function (Hill, 1996, p.147). As with the later York view The Ouse Bridge (TG1649), Girtin balances the ostensible antiquarian subject with a vivid picture of the ‘busy river traffic of the time that brought coal up from the Humber seaports and returned laden with grain’ (Hill, 1995, p.50). In this case, however, the poor, faded condition of the work means that the balance between the foremost monuments of the city (the abbey ruins and the partially obscured west front of the minster) and the working scene has been altered in favour of the latter, though, arguably, this enhances the effect of the confused, heterogeneous mix of the modern and the ancient that characterised the city of York at this time.

York: The Minster Seen from the River, with St Mary's Abbey

The watercolour, which was presumably based on an untraced drawing made on Girtin’s first independent tour, to the northern counties and Scottish Borders in 1796, has the added interest of being one of no fewer than three of his views of York that depict the same subject recorded by the artist’s almost exact contemporary, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), on his 1797 trip to the northern counties (see figure 1). Indeed, such is the correspondence between the two artists’ views that Hill initially suggested that, as with York: Pavement, with the Market Cross and All Saints’ Church (see TG1655 figure 1) and York, with the Minster, from the South West (see TG1047 figure 1), Girtin ‘might … have worked from Turner’s sketch’ (Hill, 1996, p.147). However, so numerous are the similarities between the two artists’ sketches, as well as the watercolours that were derived from them, that Hill changed his mind and argued that the pattern of influence worked the other way, noting that Turner must have seen Girtin’s 1796 sketches before his own tour and that he was encouraged to adopt the same viewpoints when sketching in York and Durham (Hill, 1996, pp.4–5). Unlike in the case of Girtin’s famous view Durham Cathedral and Castle (TG1074), Turner is not known to have produced a watercolour of this view of York, and indeed, as far as York subjects are concerned, he left the field open for Girtin to exploit, and the city and its great minster did not feature significantly in his subsequent long career.


The Ouse Bridge, York



Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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