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Works Thomas Girtin

York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1652: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on laid paper (watermark: C or G (Broken)., 32.3 × 51.8 cm, 12 ¾ × 20 ⅜ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1892.107).

Photo courtesy of The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Photo by Michael Pollard (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), mezzotint, Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern, York, 1 May 1824, republished in Liber Naturae; or, A Collection of Prints from the Drawings of Thomas Girtin, pl.4, London, 1883, 16.3 × 22.8 cm, 6 ⁷⁄₁₆ × 9 in. British Museum, London (1893,0612.82.5).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper (watermark: C or G (Broken))
32.3 × 51.8 cm, 12 ¾ × 20 ⅜ in
Part of
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Yorkshire View

York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern (TG1653)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
486 as 'The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern, York '; '1802'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and February 2020


Thomas Girtin (1775–1802); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 1 June 1803, no.130 as ‘One of the Gates at York’, £22 1s; ... Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835); his sale, possibly Christie's, 18 April 1836, lot 171; ... John Edward Taylor (1830–1905) (lent to London, 1877; London, 1891); presented to the Whitworth Institute, 1892

Exhibition History

London, 1877, no.307 as ’Old Bridge’; London, 1891, no.37 as ’Bridge at York’; Manchester, 1894, no number, as 'The Owl's Bridge, near York'; Glasgow, 1901, no.785 as ’The Owl’s Bridge’; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.53; Washington, 1962c, no.47; Brussels, 1973, no.47; Manchester, 1973, no.49; Manchester, 1975, no.101; Bordeaux, 1977, no.16; Lausanne, 1999, no.32; London, 2002, no.169


Sparrow, 1902, p.89; Davies, 1924, pl.52 as '"Owl's Bridge, Morpeth"'; Mayne, 1949, p.101; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.87; Mayne, 1962, p.241; Nugent, 2003, p.132

About this Work

This sadly faded watercolour showing the Layerthorpe Bridge over the river Foss at York is one of two versions of a composition (the other being TG1653) that Girtin must originally have sketched on his visit to the city in 1796. We can be sure that the subject of the bridge and its postern, or gatehouse, were drawn on the artist’s first independent tour, which took in the northern counties and the Scottish Borders, because of the presence of the spire of the church of St Denys, seen to the left of the bridge. The spire is also visible in an earlier view of the minster (TG1051), and, given that St Denys was demolished in 1798, it must be that both subjects were sketched in 1796 and not on an undocumented later visit. The bridge and its postern were also removed in the nineteenth century, but the square towers of St Saviour’s and St Cuthbert’s to the right are still visible from the bank of the Foss, from where they make for a rather less cluttered assembly than that shown by Girtin. Indeed, the artist’s uncharacteristically muddled and confused composition arguably provides one final clue that he revisited an earlier sketch. Girtin’s purpose here is made clear by comparing the work with the other views of the city that date from around 1800 (TG1649 and TG1656). All three, together with the other version of this composition, conform to the standard size of the works that were disposed of by Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. Since each was also the subject of a mezzotint by Reynolds (see print after, above, Neill & Son, 1883), there is little doubt that they were executed for sale on the open market and that Girtin returned to his earlier sketches to find subjects that would make for saleable commodities. The fact that there is another version of this composition suggests that, despite its limitations, it was still attractive to collectors, and according to Reynolds’ accounts it would have cost them around £10 (Reynolds, Letter, 1803).1

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a buff laid wrapping paper by an unknown English manufacturer (Smith, 2002b, p.220; Bower, Report). This is probably the same support that the artist used for The Ouse Bridge, York (TG1042), The Ogwen Falls (TG1330), Plymouth (TG1753) and Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths (TG1897). The coarse support is particularly evident because of the work’s very faded condition, which has seen the greys of the clouds and the greens of the vegetation reduced to an almost monochrome earth colour, making the work’s compositional weaknesses even more apparent. Girtin must have employed a second, less fugitive blue pigment, possibly ultramarine rather than the evanescent indigo, as at least some of the sky has retained its original colour. The work’s faded state also means that changes the artist made to the figures can be seen. A rider going under the archway has been scratched out and painted over, though it still shows through the transparent washes as a ghostly presence.

York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern

A full-scale copy of this watercolour (albeit in poor condition), is, like the comparable version of The Ouse Bridge, York (see TG1649 figure 1), to be found in the collection of York Art Gallery (see figure 1). The fact that the view of Layerthorpe Bridge was reproduced as a mezzotint by Reynolds means that the watercolour must have been in his possession and it is likely that he was responsible for the competent copy, which would have been beyond the capabilities of an amateur working from a print. Indeed, the copyist appears to have used the same pigments as Girtin, since although the sky has also faded, the same patches of blue remain unaltered. Reynolds’ posthumous sale included an item listed as ‘One of the Gates of York’, which, given that it was unsold at £1 1s, may have been this copy (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 18 April 1836, lot 171).

1797 - 1798

York: The Layerthorpe Bridge and Postern


1796 - 1797

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



The Ouse Bridge, York



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


1798 - 1799

The Ouse Bridge, York


1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls





(?) 1802

Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The letter detailing the sales of Girtin’s works by Reynolds is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1803 – Item 3).

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