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Thomas Girtin, 1775–1802, British
The Abbey Mill, Knaresborough
Watercolor with pen and brown ink, white watercolor, with some rubbing, over graphite on beige, moderately thick, moderately textured, laid paper
Sheet: 12 11/16 x 20 11/16 inches (32.2 x 52.5 cm)

Inscribed on back in graphite lower right: "Mr. Reynolds Poland St. [?]"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
architectural subject | clouds | figures | horse (animal) | landscape | men | river | rocks (landforms) | sky | trees | wall | water | water mill | wheel | windows
Associated Places:
England | Europe | Knaresborough | Nidd | North Yorkshire | United Kingdom
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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Curatorial Comment:
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In the fall of 1796 Girtin made his first independent sketching tour, visiting York, Ripon, and Durham and traveling up the Northumbrian coast via Lindisfarne to Jedburgh, on the Scottish borders. The sketching tour was a key element of his artistic practice, as it was for Turner, who traced a similar itinerary with Girtin's advice the following year. Girtin seems to have developed a deep affinity for the north of England. The panoramic views he produced after his first tour mark a decisive break with his early practice, derived from his master, Edward Dayes, of depicting close-up views of ruins; they also signal a radical shift in his palette to stronger colors. Girtin revisited Yorkshire on a number of occasions, having acquired several important patrons there, notably Edward Lascelles, who owned the Harewood estate and who acquired eighteen works by the artist. Lascelles was also one of Turner’s early patrons, but in 1799, the art-world insider Joseph Farington recorded in his diary that “Mr. Lascelles as well as Lady Sutherland are disposed to set up Girtin against Turner, who they say effects his purpose by industry—the former more genius—Turner finishes too much” (Farington, Diary, vol. 4, p. 1154). While one might take issue with Lascelles’s judgment in relation to Turner, Girtin's Yorkshire watercolors are indisputably virtuoso masterpieces of atmosphere and poetry, though his lack of finish also provoked charges of slovenliness from less enthusiastic viewers. Lascelles hired Girtin as a drawing master and reportedly set aside a room at Harewood permanently for the artist’s visits. This watercolor is one of a number of views of the Priory Mill, which stands on the left bank of the river Nidd, a mile downstream from Knaresbrough Castle and some ten miles from Harewood. Girtin, notoriously, relied on fugitive pigments, in particular indigo, for his spectacular effects, and many of his watercolors have faded appallingly; this vivid watercolor, however, is remarkably fresh and suggests why Girtin's patrons found his work so compelling.
--Gillian Forrester,2007-01
Exhibition History:
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Presences of Nature - British Landscape 1780-1830 (Yale Center for British Art, 1982-10 - 1983-02)

Thomas Girtin (Yale Center for British Art, 1986-01-21 - 1986-03-30)

Oil on Water - Oil Sketches by British Watercolorists (Yale Center for British Art, 1986-08-26 - 1986-11-09)

Thomas Girtin: Genius in the North (Harewood House Trust Ltd., 1999-03-09 - 1999-06-13)

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27)

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John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy, a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 282, no. 85, pl. 85, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Malcolm Cormack, Oil on water, oil sketches by British watercolorists , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1986, pp. 35-37, fig. 30, ND467 C67 (YCBA)

Joseph Farington, The diary of Joseph Farington, , Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1978, p. 1154 (v. 4), NJ18 F2164 A3 1978 (YCBA)

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