For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

The Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey in the Distance

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1720: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey in the Distance, (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 25 × 34 cm, 9 ⅞ × 13 ⅜ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey in the Distance
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
25 × 34 cm, 9 ⅞ × 13 ⅜ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; The Scottish Borders; The View from Above

The Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey in the Distance (TG1721)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
353 as 'Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey ... Done on the spot'
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Sir James Thomas Knowles (1831–1908); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 28 May 1908, lot 262 as 'Landscape Studies (5)'; bought by 'Palser', £16; J. Palser & Sons (stock no.16494) as 'Kirkstall Abbey'; bought by H. Ward, 1 September 1908; J. Palser & Sons (stock no.16638); bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 12 February 1910, £40; given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; 'the property of a Lady'; her sale, Sotheby’s, 13 November 1997, lot 47, £9,775

Exhibition History

London, 1912, no.34 as ’The Valley of the Wharfe’; Cambridge, 1920, no.43 as 'The Valley of the Wharfe'; Agnew’s, 1931, no.134 as ’Rievaux Abbey, in the Valley of the Rye’; London, 1934b, no.765 as 'Valley of the Aire with Kirkstall Abbey'; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.89 as ’The Valley of the Tweed with Melrose Abbey’; Sheffield, 1953, no.54; Leeds, 1958, no.50; London, 1962a, no.159; Manchester, 1975, no.64


Gibson, 1916, pp.216–17, p.220; Finberg and Taylor, 1917–18, p.15, as 'The Valley of the Aire with Kirkstall Abbey'; Mayne, 1949, p.103 as 'The Valley of the Rye'; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.83

About this Work

This badly faded watercolour, which has at various times been described as showing the ruins of the abbey churches of Bolton and Rievaulx, was identified by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak as a distant view of Melrose Abbey, in the valley of the river Tweed in the Scottish Borders. They argued that it was sketched on the spot during the artist’s stay at the nearby seat of the 11th Earl of Buchan (1742–1829) at Dryburgh in 1800 (Jenkins, Notes, 1852), and, furthermore, that it was part of ‘a group of larger, more elaborate sketches’ that came from the collection of Sir James Knowles (1831–1908) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.83). Some of those ‘sketches’, including Morpeth Bridge (TG1706), which is dated 1800, were certainly not made on the spot, and I must admit to an initial scepticism regarding the status of this watercolour, on the grounds that it seemed too much like another example of Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) talking up the significance of a work that he had the good fortune to own. However, although the work had a skyscape in its pre-faded state, a feature that is not always evident in the artist’s on-the-spot drawings, I now suspect that it is not a studio work after all and that it is therefore the sketch from which Girtin produced a larger watercolour of the composition (TG1721). Features such as the very limited palette and the evident speed with which the washes have been added, leading to areas in the foreground being messy and unresolved, suggest a work coloured on the spot, though it is actually a careful comparison with the large watercolour that arguably finally provides the key to the work’s status. The crucial point is not that the studio watercolour replicates the sketch but that it departs from it in a number of ways, but always in the interests of creating a more effective composition. The foreground, in particular, has been recast, with the line of the road changed to create a more oblique and serpentine route into the composition, whilst the vegetation has been rearranged to create a more pronounced incline that emphasises the isolation of the ruins. Bright sunlight still highlights the ruins, whilst the modern village of Melrose is effectively obscured by a combination of deep shade and trees, but elsewhere the field patterns are brought into clearer focus as a series of diagonals that give to the studio work a greater spatial clarity. In all this I am reminded of the similar way in which the studio version of Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe (TG1685) makes similar small adjustments in the lines of trees in the distance, applying an order to the more random quality of the on-the-spot sketch (TG1613). I suspect that it is the arbitrary and irregular nature of the constituent elements in the smaller version of the Melrose composition that in the end marks it out as having been painted on the spot. Arguably, the only reason to think that this was not the case is the fact that the sketch actually includes less of the composition to the right, and so, if the larger work is based on it, the artist would have had to invent about a fifth of the scene to fit the standard size of so many of his later works, 31.1 × 52.1 cm (12 ¼ × 20 ½ in). However, given that the foreground has been changed considerably, this does not seem to be too great a challenge.


Morpeth Bridge


1800 - 1801

The Valley of the Tweed, with Melrose Abbey in the Distance


1800 - 1801

Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe, near Bolton Abbey


(?) 1800

Stepping Stones on the River Wharfe


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.