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Works Thomas Girtin

York Minster, from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1051: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), York Minster, from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 21.7 × 30.1 cm, 8 ½ × 11 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.11).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Print after: John Hill (1770–1850), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), etching and aquatint, 'York Minster' for Rudolph Ackermann's Four Views from Nature. From drawings by Mr. Girtin, no.3, 1 May 1800, 27.1 × 34.3 cm, 10 ⅝ × 13 ½ in. British Museum, London (1865,0610.1032).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • York Minster, from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right
Date
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
Dimensions
21.7 × 30.1 cm, 8 ½ × 11 ⅞ in
Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Yorkshire View

Collection
Versions
York Minster from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right (TG1656)
Catalogue Number
TG1051
Girtin & Loshak Number
154i as 'York Minster'; '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018

Provenance

Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

Harewood, 1999, no.28; London, 2002, no.30

Bibliography

Binyon, 1898–1907, no.10; Wilcox, 2011, p.20;  Brown, 2012, p.57; British Museum, Collection (Accessed 15/09/2022)

About this Work

This distant view of York Minster from across the river meadows to the south east is one of two versions of a composition that Girtin sketched on his visit to York in 1796 (the other being TG1656). This has not always been my opinion, however, since in the catalogue to Girtin’s 2002 bicentenary exhibition I dated the watercolour to around 1794, arguing that it was probably made after the work of another artist, possibly James Moore (1762–99) or Edward Dayes (1763–1804) (Smith, 2002b, p.53). The style of the work appeared to have more in common with the small drawings that Girtin produced for Moore at that date, and I agreed with David Hill, who noted that it ‘does not have the firmness of knowledge of the subject that one might expect if Girtin had studied it at first hand’ (Hill, 1999, p.46). However, more recently, I have been taken to task by the anonymous author of the entry for the work in the British Museum online catalogue, who rightly points out that what I took to be the relatively weak handling of the architecture was not evidence of an early date, but the result of the artist’s use of a ‘bold lighting effect’ to provide a ‘unifying feature in the composition’ (British Museum, Collection, 1855,0214.11). The author also notes that the work was one of four northern subjects that were reproduced in aquatint for the publisher Rudolph Ackermann (1764–1834) under the general title Four Views from Nature: From Drawings by Mr. Girtin. The point here is not that we should take the statement that the views were taken ‘from Nature’ as fact, though it may have been true, but that the watercolour actually has much more in common with the other two surviving works that were engraved in 1800 (TG1068 and TG1115) than with the earlier drawings made after Moore’s sketches. And therein lies the problem with my previous dating; I was comparing this view of York Minster with other products of the 1796 tour and finding it wanting, forgetting that a small drawing executed for reproduction simply does not need the level of finish demanded by a watercolour destined for the walls of the Royal Academy (such as TG1050) or a wealthy patron.

Another salient point made in the British Museum catalogue entry relates to the existence of a later version of this composition with a dramatic sunset effect (TG1656), and the improbability of Girtin turning to a sketch by an amateur artist at this stage of his career. Moore’s views of the great Gothic cathedrals of the nation concentrate on the architectural details, and, whilst one can imagine him providing Girtin with the model for a view such as The South Side of York Minster (TG1050), this composition is altogether less conventional. Confined into a narrow band in the distance, the buildings shown in the view – Peasholme House, the minster with the Chapter House abutting into the tower of St Cuthbert’s Church, and the Layerthorpe Bridge and postern on the river Foss to the right – are not carefully plotted to show off their qualities as architectural monuments, as Moore was wont to do. Indeed, the very reason that Hill gave for believing that Girtin’s composition was not based on an on-the-spot sketch – namely, that the Chapter House appears detached from the minster – may be more properly seen as the effort of an artist whose visits to well-known locations were increasingly motivated by a desire to find unconventional and unusual angles and views. A view that embraces an element of the random and where a less than picturesque alignment of buildings has not been tidied up is, I suggest, a clear sign that it was studied on the spot.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a white wove drawing paper, probably manufactured by Robert Edmeads (unknown dates) and Thomas Pine (unknown dates) at Great Ivy Mill near Maidstone (Smith, 2002b, p.53; Bower, Report).

1800

York Minster from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right

TG1656

1796 - 1797

Barnard Castle, from the River Tees

TG1068

1796 - 1797

Etal Castle

TG1115

1796 - 1797

The South Side of York Minster, Showing the Transept and the Western Towers

TG1050

1800

York Minster from the South East, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern to the Right

TG1656

1796 - 1797

The South Side of York Minster, Showing the Transept and the Western Towers

TG1050

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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