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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

York Minster, from the South West

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1048: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), York Minster, from the South West, 1796–97, watercolour and bodycolour on paper, 45.7 × 40.6 cm, 18 × 16 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive, PA-F03340-0101 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • York Minster, from the South West
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Watercolour and bodycolour on paper
45.7 × 40.6 cm, 18 × 16 in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Yorkshire View

York Minster, from the South West (TG1047)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Sotheby's, 19 March 1958, lot 36; bought by Spink's, £260; Spink & Son Ltd, London; bought by Philip Cunliffe-Lister, 1st Earl of Swinton (1884–1972) and Mary Constance, Countess of Swinton (d.1974), 1959; then by descent

Exhibition History

Spink’s, London, 1959, catalogue untraced; London, 1963a, no.26

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 TG1047) (Hill, 1996, p.146). Neither of the works was included in Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak’s catalogue (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 worked up from a pencil drawing by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (see TG1047 figure 1). Noting the similarity of the composition to a drawing that came from the collection of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), together with small watercolour on card (see TG1047 figure 2), which may also be by Turner, Tom concluded that his ancestor had been encouraged by his patron to use Turner’s drawing as the basis for a large composition (TG1047) and that this work was a second version of that outcome (Girtin Archive, 40A). 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 TG1655 figure 1) 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 is currently known only from an old black and white image. Comparing the photograph with the equally poor image of the other version of the composition is hardly a satisfactory way of determining a work’s quality or its attribution, but currently there is no alternative. Nonetheless, this watercolour does not seem to be of quite the same standard, and I would point to the formulaic treatment of the foliage and some insecure perspective in the minster, which leaves the structure looking strangely insubstantial, as evidence of that assessment. But whether this means that this watercolour is a copy of Girtin’s commission from Monro, or whether Girtin made a second version bestowing a little less care and attention on the work, it is not possible to establish. Moreover, it is possible that my suggestion that the Monro commission dates from around 1797 and was shown at the Royal Academy exhibition in that year is incorrect, and that it was this work that was the earlier; that might indeed account for its apparent shortcomings.

1796 - 1797

York Minster, from the South West


1796 - 1797

York Minster, from the South West


1797 - 1798

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


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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