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Works Thomas Girtin

York Minster, from the South West

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1047: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), York Minster, from the South West, 1796–97, watercolour on paper, 47.7 × 42 cm, 18 ¾ × 16 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • York Minster, from the South West
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Watercolour on paper
47.7 × 42 cm, 18 ¾ × 16 ½ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Yorkshire View

York Minster, from the South West (TG1048)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 1 July 1833, lot 118 as 'York Minster'; bought by Alexander Monro (1802–44), £11 0s 6d; ... Florence Anne Boot (née Rowe), Lady Trent (1863–1952); Leggatt Brothers, London, 1925; Miles Thompson; his sale, Sotheby’s, 9 November 1955, lot 46; bought by 'Comber', £980

Exhibition History

(?) Royal Academy, London, 1797, no.486, no.489, no.499 or no.726 as ’View of York’


Hill, 1996, pp.146–47; Brown, 2012, p.53

About this Work

This view of York Minster from the south west, with the river Ouse to the left and Lendal Tower in the centre, is one of two versions of a composition that has been the subject of considerable speculation about its origin (the other being TG1048) (Hill, 1996, p.146). Neither of the works was included in the catalogue prepared by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak (Girtin and Loshak, 1954), as they only reappeared on the art market after its publication, but when they did so Tom Girtin (1913–94) sought to show that they were both worked up from a pencil drawing by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (see figure 1). Noting the similarity of the composition to a sketch that came from the collection of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), together with a small watercolour on card (see figure 2), which may also be by Turner, Tom concluded that Monro had admired Turner’s sketch made on his 1797 tour to the northern counties and commissioned a version by Girtin (Girtin Archive, 40A). The Girtin watercolour certainly came from Monro’s collection, as attested by the copy made by his son Alexander Monro (1802–44), and by the abortive efforts of Chambers Hall (1786–1855) to buy the work from the collector in 1820 (Linnell, Journal, 1817–23).1 However, there is a much simpler, less convoluted explanation for the striking similarities between the Girtin and Turner compositions. Thus, as David Hill has argued, Turner appears to have seen Girtin’s northern sketches prior to his own northern tour in 1797 and, as in the case of the view Durham Cathedral and Castle (see TG1075 figure 1), he adopted Girtin’s viewpoint when he visited the city (Hill, 1996, pp.4–5). Two other York views sketched by Turner, York: Pavement, with the Market Cross and All Saints’ Church (see comparative image TG1655) and York: The Minster Seen from the River, with St Mary’s Abbey (see TG1049 figure 1), also appear to have been inspired by Girtin’s choice of viewpoint, and I can see no reason why this was not the case with this view of the minster – it is just that Girtin’s pencil drawing has either not been identified or not survived.

Girtin’s watercolour has sadly not been seen in public since it appeared at auction in 1955 and it is known only through a black and white image in the auction catalogue, so it is difficult to establish the date of the work with any confidence. In his correspondence with the watercolour’s previous owner, Thomas Girtin (descendant of the artist) suggested a date of 1800–1801 and the auction catalogue followed this (Girtin Archive, 27). However, that would date the commission from Monro to two or three years after Girtin’s last known work for the patron, and I suspect that it was produced much earlier. Indeed, given that we can be reasonably certain that the work was not produced after a later Turner drawing, consideration should surely be given to the idea that it was executed soon after the artist’s return from his trip to York in 1796, and that it might even be identified as one of the four works titled ‘View of York’ shown at the Royal Academy in 1797 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.167; Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1797, nos.486, 489, 499 and 726). Although it is impossible to confirm the earlier date from the current photographic evidence that we have, I think it is possible that an earlier generation of Girtin scholars was misled by their belief that the work was based on a drawing by Turner into dating it too late.

The British Museum owns a full-scale copy of Girtin’s watercolour that has very plausibly been attributed to the artist’s early patron John Henderson (1764–1843) (see figure 3). The copy was presented to the museum by Henderson’s son, and, given that the amateur, as a neighbour and close associate of Monro, would have had access to Girtin’s watercolour, there is no reason to doubt their attribution of the copy. Peter Brown in his book Views of York noted that this version, which he thought was by Turner, was produced ‘from memory’ as it includes a classical building behind Lendal Tower that did not exist, and also that the work must have been sketched before 1803 as on top of the central tower it shows the Civil War lookout turret, which was blown down in that year (Brown, 2012, p.53).

1796 - 1797

York Minster, from the South West


1796 - 1797

York: Pavement, Looking towards All Saints


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The relevant entries from John Linnell’s journal are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1820 – Item 1).

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