Bowder Stone, Borrowdale by Atkinson Grimshaw. c.1863-64. Oil on canvas, 400 x 536 mm. Collection: Tate Britain T03693. Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported). Click on image to enlarge it.

Tate Britain Commentary by Heather Birchall

The precise date of Bowder Stone, Borrowdale is not known, but it is likely to have been painted during the same period as Grimshaw's other Lake District paintings, including Windermere (1863) and Nab Scar (1864). The precarious position of the rock may have attracted Grimshaw to paint the 2000 ton Bowder Stone, which is approximately thirty feet high, fifty feet across and ninety feet in circumference. The steps leaning against the rock demonstrate its importance as a tourist attraction. The River Derwent, visible behind, winds its way to the mountains of Skiddaw and Saddleback in the distance.

Although Grimshaw may have worked outdoors for some of the details of the painting, there is evidence that he relied on photographic sources in an attempt to record the natural world with absolute visual accuracy. It was a common practice for artists at this time to use photographs as an aide-memoire when they returned to their studio. Grimshaw's interest in photography is well documented. Robertson has made a direct comparison between Grimshaw's Nab Scar and a photograph taken by Thomas Ogle of Penrith, a commercial photographer working in the area (Robertson, p.111). This photograph is in an album that belonged to Grimshaw now held at Leeds City Art Gallery. Robertson rightly asserts that Bowder Stone, Borrowdale was 'almost certainly based on a photographic source' which, he continues, contributed to the 'frozen quality, an almost "airless moment of time"' characteristic of his paintings from this period (Robertson, p.22).


Bartram, Michael. Pre-Raphaelite Camera. London 1985.

Robertson, Alexander. Atkinson Grimshaw. London 1988.

Last modified 9 July 2018