Thomas Girtin was an artist from London, who during his tragically short life produced an amazing body of work. As a teenager he became friends with JMW Turner and they inspired each other to master the art of water colour. Girtin had already painted several other structures, including Guisborough Priory, Lindisfarne Castle and Durham Cathedral. He arrived in Leeds in 1800 to paint one of his favorite subjects, Kirkstall Abbey and surrounding landscape.
In those days Leeds had yet to dramatically expand, due to the Industrial Revolution and so Girtin’s painting provides a unique glimpse into what the city looked like before the influx of mills, houses and workers which would follow during the 19th Century. The Kirkstall, Burley and Headingley areas would go under immense changes and quickly become suburbs of Leeds not long after this picture was painted.