John Sell Cotman

On the Greta


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
John Sell Cotman 1782–1842
Watercolour, graphite and gouache on paper
Support: 228 × 333 mm
Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

Display caption

It was in 1805, on the third of his visits to North Yorkshire to visit the Cholmeley family, that Cotman made the famous sequence of watercolour studies on the river Greta near Rokeby on the Yorkshire-Durham border. The wooded slopes and winding paths close to the river in Rokeby Park inspired what one author has described as 'the most perfect examples of pure watercolour ever made in Europe'. Cotman uses pure, translucent wash layers and minimum shadow. He defines shape with the crisp edges of his washes rather than with outline. In 1805 Cotman wrote to a patron that his 'chief Study' that summer had been 'colouring from nature', and that his sketches were 'close copies of that ficle Dame'.

Gallery label, August 2004

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