Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Wales: Artists and Subjects, Yorkshire, The Humber and North East England: Artists and Subjects 20 Did this picturesque ruin, which is not Masham Castle, ever exist?

Topic: Subject or sitter

I am intrigued by the description of this painting. Masham has neither a castle, nor a cliff. The river meanders through fields, and does not pass by rocks at all. So I wonder where it is. Does anyone know?

Ibbetson has also painted a rustic cottage at Masham, and the background is clearly identifiable, the church and the building next to the church are still there ( He is buried at Masham. Although Richmond does have a castle on top of a rocky cliff face, this is not Richmond either, unless it was artistically altered.

Could anyone comment on Ibbetson’s approach to landscape?

Mrs M Moverley, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title of this painting has been changed to ‘Women washing clothes in a stream below a ruined castle’. It has been added to the artwork description field that this is a capriccio probably based on Beeston Castle, which the artist is known to have painted.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Comment from the collection: ‘This is a curious one, in that I'm not sure when it became described as Masham Castle – our 1958 Catalogue of Paintings just records it as “Landscape with Figures”. The database record says “A fanciful view which may have been based on a view of what is now Swinton Park Luxury Castle Hotel”, but that does not have a cliff either so perhaps that is why it is “fanciful”.’

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, the title is clearly spurious, so it can be changed to "Landscape with Figures and Ruined Castle." The figures all appear to be women washing clothes at a river or stream.

Brenda Lambourne,

The topography of a ruin on a high cliff by a river fits some Welsh castles, Chepstow for instance.

Mark Wilson,

Ibbetson has over 150 paintings on ArtUK, mostly landscapes, for which he was best known in his day. Well over a third of all the paintings are related to specific places in their titles, mainly in the Lake District and Wales. And this makes sense because the time he was active was the birth of Romanticism and domestic tourism and buyers wanted representations of where they had been or might go. Generic scenes would not be as popular.

Of course complete accuracy might be tweaked for effect and details and figures added. It's possible that whenever he sat down to sketch, a gang of local washerwomen invaded his view (he must have thought the countryside smelt of soap), if not they could be added later. But pictures had to be recognisable.

So even if this picture is mislabelled, it was probably meant to be a picturesque version of somewhere. Wales has lots of castles and lots of rivers and lots of castles by rivers and seems the most likely place to look. Kidwelly Castle might be a possibility. This roughly contemporary (1810) etching:

might show the view from a different angle and implies a similar level of dereliction at the time. But there may well be other candidates.

Brenda Lambourne,

This is Turner's version of Chepstow Castle from about the same viewpoint: not quite right but similar.

The building in the background with the row of arcaded windows ( which Chepstow lacks) might be a clue.

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I think it is probably unlikely that Ibbeston intended this to be a representation of a particular castle. If it was based on a real castle, it will have undergone some enhancement and recontextualising, so to speak.

In terms of his inspiration, I have been having a look round. We need to look for round towers and surving machicolations (although Ibbetson may have added these).

Beeston Castle looked a possibility. Ibbeston painted it at least twice (examples in Ulster Museum, and Nottingham Castle Museum on Art UK). But the location is perhaps too different.

Chepstow is perhaps another one. For comparison there is an Ibbetson-style example here-

And a hopelessly overblown John Martin watercolour of Chepstow illustrates how the Romantics played with their source material -

Jacinto Regalado,

This is probably a capriccio of sorts, with the added genre element of the washerwomen, all calculated to be picturesque.

While not the only Romantic models to emulate that Ibbetson might have had in mind, de Loutherbourg certainly provided some for the castle and the bucolic staffage, though not usually in the same painting: eg two castles, (1) supposedly Palestine and (2) Conway - of which there is a print version:

And figures, in similar sunset tone to Ibbetson:

Marcie Doran,

I agree with Andrew Greg - this work seems to be based on Beeston Castle. Please see the work “Beeston Castle, Cheshire” by George Barret the elder (1728/1732-1784) at the Grosvenor Museum I have reversed the Barret work for the attached composite. Even the large tree in the foreground has very similar leaf arrangements.

Jacinto Regalado,

The partial similarity may be a coincidence. It is neither the same ruin nor the same associated topography, albeit comparable.

Martin Hopkinson,

Ibbetson certainly painted the castle a number of times - see the pictures in Ulster and Nottingham. Barret's Ulster Museum painting could also be compared with this work.
As for Kidwelly one could compare it with William Butler's painting in Swansea
A capriccio based on Beeston does seem to be possible. Remember this was not painted on the spot, but from a possibly sketchy drawing

Ian Black,

Definitely not Masham, although It has the appeal of the picturesque that was pushed by William Gilpin of the Wye Valley, the view is not dissimilar to one of his sketches of Goodrich castle. The sketch of Gilpin's view of Goodrich Castle appeared in his "Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770"

But it appears to me to be a contrived view of a romanticists castle, not unlike Grimaldi's 'Landscape with a castle on a hill and three figures and horse' possibly on which it was based as the elements and placements are almost identical.

There is general agreement that Ibbetson's painting of a ruined castle is most likely to have been intended as a general picturesque image, not a view of a particular castle. Beeston Castle is probably the closest comparison, however, and Ibbetson is known to have painted it. A possible, though overlong, title might be."A Ruined Castle on a crag, with women washing clothes in a stream. Possibly based on Beeston Castle."

'Women washing clothes in a stream below a ruined castle' would be a shorter one, with the idea its a 'capriccio' based on Beeston mentioned under 'more information'. Its unlikely anyone searching for accurate Beeston views would consider it one and 'ruin/castle' is probably enough for Romantic-subject search purposes.

Jacinto Regalado,

"Washerwomen in a stream by a ruined castle" is shorter still.

Marcie Doran,

The Meisterdrucke website has an image of an Ibbetson painting with a title that is similar to the one suggested by Pieter.
‘Women Washing Clothes in a Welsh Stream, 1790’

The Collection have commented: 'It’s good that it’s come to a conclusion. I prefer Pieter’s suggestion re title – it seems more in keeping with Ibbetson’s titles from what Marcie says, and still gives the viewer an idea of what they will see without being too long.
As for description, we may as well edit/add to the description that we have on our database, to make it: 'A group of seven washerwomen are depicted at work by a river or stream with the ruins of a castle towering above them. This is a fanciful view (capriccio) probably based on Beeston Castle, which the artist is known to have painted.'