This extraordinary watercolour dates from a five-week visit John Sell Cotman paid to North Yorkshire and Durham in 1805.

During his time there he created a series of on-the-spot paintings along the banks of the River Greta, one of which is this study of a steep ravine spanned by a bridge set against a blue sky. On returning to London Cotman wrote to his patron, Dawson Turner: ‘My chief study has been colouring from nature, many of which [studies] are close copies of that fickle Dame.’ Greta Woods shows the 23-year-old artist experimenting with the pioneering technique of painting directly in the open air. Cotman showed a number of his Greta River watercolours at the Royal Academy, but his innovative approach and daring disregard for finish may explain the small number of sales. Leeds Art Gallery holds almost 900 drawings, prints and watercolours by Cotman, many of which were bequeathed to the city of Leeds by the artist’s biographer, Sydney Decimus Kitson. Greta Woods now joins three other paintings from the 1805 series in the gallery’s outstanding collection.


Acquired from the artist by Francis Gibson of Saffron Walden; by descent in the Fry family to the present owners

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