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