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Works Thomas Girtin

A Church in a Village, Possibly at Radwinter

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1788: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Church in a Village, Possibly at Radwinter, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 8.7 × 11.5 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.44).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Church in a Village, Possibly at Radwinter
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
8.7 × 11.5 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; The Village; Surrey View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
494 as 'Church in a Village'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.17a

About this Work

This view of a village church with a barn is one of fifteen generally slight colour sketches, all measuring roughly 8.9 × 11.4 cm (3 ½ × 4 ½ in), that appear to have come from a sketchbook worked late in Girtin’s career. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that these works ‘represent the fruits of local sketching trips taken during the summer of 1802’, and they argued that the fact that none of them were used as the basis for studio watercolours supported a late date (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.84–85). However, only one of the scenes can be identified as a local view, Copenhagen House, Islington (TG1783), and although some of them appear to be imaginary, others, as in this case, seem to represent picturesque subjects sketched in Essex three or four years earlier. Thus, whilst the sketches were evidently created at speed, it is unlikely that they were worked up on the spot, being produced instead in the studio to satisfy the market for the less formal aspects of the artist’s output. The evidence that they come from a sketchbook is also ambiguous, since, as the paper historian Peter Bower has pointed out, specialised books for the use of artists were not manufactured at this date, and they either used pocketbooks or they themselves gathered together sheets of paper (Bower, 2002, p.141). New evidence, in the form of the account of John Girtin (1773–1821) of the material that he removed from his brother’s studio at his death, suggests that the latter was the case here. John records that amongst the items that he appropriated to settle his brother’s extensive unpaid debts were ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’, and it seems likely that these included the group of small drawings now in the British Museum, which would, indeed, date from late in his life (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). John Girtin was thus responsible for splitting up the ‘little Books’ and selling the sketches to collectors such as Chambers Hall (1786–1855), the generous patron of the museum (Smith, 2017–18, pp.35–36).

The resemblance of the building shown here to the church of St Mary the Virgin in Radwinter in Essex, with its thin spire and battlemented tower, is sufficient to suggest, together with the existence of a number of similar subjects from the same county (such as TG1790), that Girtin revisited earlier outline drawings to produce a group of saleable commodities. What is not clear, however, is why it was that the colouring in this work, alone in the group, is incomplete. Some of the sketches may have been coloured by John Girtin to make them more attractive to prospective purchasers, but it would not have been logical for him to have only partly coloured this example. Therefore, given that the view does indeed seem to date from later, rather than being a surviving drawing from 1798–99, when Girtin presumably visited Radwinter to record the Essex properties of his future father-in-law, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843) (such as in TG1452), I suspect that it might have been left unfinished at the artist’s death in November 1802.

(?) 1802

Copenhagen House, Islington


(?) 1802

A Barn by a Pond


(?) 1799

Pinckney’s Farm, Radwinter


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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