Thomas Girtin: Durham Cathedral and Castle, c.1800
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digital image courtesy of Getty's Open Content Program
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) was an English painter and etcher. A friend and rival of Turner, Girtin played a key role in establishing watercolour as a reputable art form. His architectural and topographical sketches and drawings established his reputation, his use of watercolour for landscapes being such as to give him the credit of having created Romantic watercolour painting.
The view of Durham from the river was described by Girtin's contemporary Richard Warner, as a place of 'inconceivable majesty.' This rare watercolour illustrates that statement. Girtin was an exceptionally talented artist who died tragically young but whose greatness Turner fully acknowledged when he later claimed, 'if Tom had lived, I would have starved.' This statement was surely an exaggeration but Girtin was certainly an intimidatingly talented contemporary whose work does appear markedly more powerful when one compares this view of Durham with the young Turner's own view of 1798.
Girtin presents Durham's medieval cathedral and castle from the banks of the River Wear. The view includes the Framwellgate Bridge and demonstrates Girtin's mastery of perspective as well as of architectural and topographical detail. The composition is lit from the right, highlighting the castle and cathedral whilst plunging the foreground, as well as part of the bridge and building to the right, into deep shadow. The treatment of the sky echos the contrast, with light blue offset against darker brooding clouds. Girtin infuses the scene with a vibrant sense of life through the inclusion of the fast moving water cascading over the weir, and the colourfully dressed figures and a horse and cart travelling over the bridge
the above text appears on the back of the card HC-805: card size 7" x 5" (178mm x 127mm)