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Works Thomas Girtin

Harewood Bridge

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1551: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Harewood Bridge, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 37.5 × 63.5 cm, 14 ¾ × 25 in. Harewood House (HHTP:2001.2.23).

Photo courtesy of The Earl and Countess of Harewood and Harewood House Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Harewood Bridge
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
37.5 × 63.5 cm, 14 ¾ × 25 in
Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Rural Labour; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
368 as '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Edward Lascelles (1764–1814); then by descent to Henry Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824–92); his sale, Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 9; bought by 'Palser', 10 gns; J. Palser & Sons; Edward Cohen (1817–86) (lent to London, 1875; London, 1877); then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1931; Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882–1947) by 1936; then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.101; London, 1877, no.305; Agnew’s, 1931, no.100; London, 1934b, no.872; Leeds, 1937, no.17; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.74; Manchester, 1975, no.69; Harewood, 1999, no.22; London, 2002, no.137


Borenius, 1936, no.308; Mayne, 1949, p.105; Hill, 1995, pp.39–41

About this Work

This view of Harewood Bridge seen from the south bank of the river Wharfe, with the weir running across the foreground, was commissioned by Edward Lascelles (1764–1814), the son of the owner of Harewood House and Girtin’s patron. The artist is documented as having stayed with his patron in the summer of 1800, and in all likelihood this watercolour was produced from a sketch made in that year, though the artist also appears to have visited in 1799. The four-arched bridge to the north west of Harewood was built in 1729 and then widened in 1771 by the architect of the mansion, John Carr (1723–1807), no doubt with the support of the Lascelles family. Although a noble structure, the bridge on its own does not make for an exciting composition, even with the addition of a picturesque group of cottages and farm buildings on the opposite bank. As David Hill has wisely noted, the view is lifted by perhaps the ‘most extraordinary figure composition’ of Girtin’s career (Hill, 1995, p.39). A group of labourers precariously perched on a plank in the middle of the river haul on a multi-stranded rope to drive a pile into the river bed, as the foremen, front and aft, carefully direct the operations. The depiction of an arcane activity in such detail cannot have been invented; Girtin must have observed at first hand the complex task of repairing a weir, and no doubt he worked from an on-the-spot sketch when he produced the finished watercolour. As Hill has again noted, there are records of major floods in Yorkshire in 1799 and it is probable that Girtin witnessed the repair work that must have taken place in the following year as the water levels of the region’s rivers lowered (Hill, 1999, p.42). Indeed, a number of Girtin’s other northern subjects include figures repairing weirs, such as Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir (TG1642) and Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear (TG1074), and this is almost certainly not a coincidence. As such, the fact that this work was commissioned by a member of the Lascelles family means that the task depicted by Girtin takes on a specific meaning. The ‘endeavours of the labourers’ may, as Hill claims, ‘take on an almost heroic dimension’ as they seek to tame the flow of nature, but their inclusion is also a statement about the Lascelles family as model landlords who are shown to be restoring the estate’s fabric through their own largesse (Hill, 1999, p.41). The view of Harewood Bridge, it must be remembered, was destined for display in the family’s town house in Hanover Square in London, where it joined other images of a vast country estate run, apparently, for the benefit of its fortunate tenants – fortunate, of course, because they did not have to labour on the Lascelles’ West India estates as slaves, which was the ultimate source of both their wages and the fee that Girtin himself received. 

The watercolour, along with the majority of the other views commissioned by Lascelles, has faded badly. Indeed, this was supposedly why fifteen of Girtin’s works that hung in the London townhouse were sent to auction in 1858, including this watercolour (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 9). It is difficult to say precisely how much the colour has changed, but certainly the broken sky has lost substantial areas of blue and the range of greys for the clouds have turned a reddy brown, whilst the greens in the foreground have been seriously degraded. The work may never have been very colourful, but the original effect of a bright summer’s day, with a gently flowing river, has taken on the hue of something altogether more sombre.

(?) 1800

Wetherby Bridge and Mills, Looking across the Weir



Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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