- Museum number
Durham from the North West; view from a height overlooking roofs of houses in the city, the cathedral and fortified building on a hill in the distance, a bridge in the mid-distance. 1805
Graphite, with watercolour
- Production date
Height: 281 millimetres
Width: 433 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Cotman arrived in Durham from Rokeby on 4 September 1805. The bad weather, which prevented him continuing his outdoor work on the river Greta, coupled with the entreaties of Mrs Cholmeley, induced him to change his mind. On 29 August, he was still firmly against the idea; he wrote to Francis Cholmeley, 'she [his mother] insists on my storming Durham, and I strongly blockade her measures. But you will see who conquers. But seriously, what have I to do with Durham? Am I to place it on my studies of trees like a rookery?' (Cholmeley Archive, p.29). The two parties seem to have crossed on the road, and when Cotman reached Durham, the Cholmeleys were already heading home to Brandsby. After another day and night of rain, Cotman set to work, pronouncing , 'It is a delightfully situated city; I have made but one outline since I've been here to my shame, but I hope to be more industrious' (written from Shottons Inn on 6 September; Cholmeley Archive, p.30). The present view, showing a distant prospect of the city from the north-west, may be the drawing referred to.
It certainly has the dramatic sweep of some of the moorland views Cotman had just left around Rokeby (such as 'Distant View of Greta Bridge', Tate Gallery, Kitson, p.33). It also shows him trying to move away from the established view of the cathedral seen from the river, painted by both Girtin and Turner (see 'Durham Cathedral; Images & Artists', exh.cat., Durham Art Gallery, 1993, pp16-17). Ulimately, Cotman did produce a version of this subject, probably the study in the Tate Gallery (3634), which became the basis for the watercolour in Norwich (Early drawings, cat.92). On his return to London, Cotman wrote to Dawson Turner on 30 November 1805, 'My tour this summer has been confined to York & Durham the Cathedral of the latter magnificent tho not so fine as that of York' (ms in BM, Reeve collection).
1950,0211.1 is certainly unfinished. Yet in this state it reveals the sharpness and refinement of Cotman's pencil work, also still much in evidence in the finished view of the cathedral, 1859,0528.119; and, in the broad patches of wash, it shows the extreme simplicity of underlying structure which he was aiming for at this moment in his development.
For complete bibliographic references for curatorial comments on John Sell Cotman drawings in the British Museum collection see 1902,0514.7
Reproduced and discussed in David Hill, ‘Cotman in the North’, 2005, pl.137, p. 133
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1993 Jul-Oct, Durham Art Gallery, 'Durham Cathedral; Artists & Images', no.B8
2002 Feb-May, BM, 'John Sell Cotman; The Poetry of Nature', no cat
2005 May-July, Durham, Bowes Museum, 'Sense and Sensibility: Cotman Watercolours of Durham and Yorkshire'
2005 Aug-Oct, Leeds, Harewood House, 'Sense and Sensibility: Cotman Watercolours of Durham and Yorkshire'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number