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Works Thomas Girtin

A Country Churchyard

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1447: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Country Churchyard, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 23.3 × 40.9 cm, 9 ⅛ × 15 ⅞ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (735).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Country Churchyard
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
23.3 × 40.9 cm, 9 ⅛ × 15 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
295 as '"A Country Churchyard"'; '1798–9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Girtin (1836–1912) (lent to London, 1875); by a settlement to his sister, Mary Hog Barnard (1829–99); her sale, Christie’s, 31 May 1886, lot 50 as 'Gray's Tomb, Stoke Pogis Churchyard'; bought by 'Palser', £31 10s; J. Palser & Sons; bought by George Tite; then by descent to Katherine Vulliamy, née Tite; presented to the Museum, 1912

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.28 as ’Old Church with Trees’; Cambridge, 1994, p.59

About this Work

It has not been possible to identify the church shown in this watercolour, and I suspect that this will remain the case, as there is little distinctive architectural detail from which to identify it, and this is precisely the sort of humble structure that was commonly effaced by later Victorian rebuilding. It is one of two church views by Girtin that have been associated with Thomas Gray’s (1716–71) Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) (the other being TG0858), though neither building resembles the poet’s inspiration (the graveyard at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire) or the evening scene he describes (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.174). To an earlier generation of Girtin scholars, the picturesque jumble of prominent gravestones, combined with the reclining figure seen from behind, was enough to suggest a link with Gray’s meditation on mortality and on the lives of the obscure country folk who were buried in the churchyard. This reading of the work was no doubt further encouraged by its faded state, which has seen the blues of the sky all but disappear, whilst some of the greens of the foliage have been transformed to a predominant brown tone that enhances the mood of melancholy. A touch of blue in the distance, presumably the sign of the use of a less fugitive pigment, and areas of bodycolour on the gravestones, give some indication of the deterioration that the work has undergone, which has obscured the fact that the church and the graves are actually illuminated by sunlight.

The first known owner of the watercolour was the artist’s son, Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74). He may have inherited some of his father’s works, but he also bought many more on the open market, and it is therefore unlikely that this work came directly from the artist’s studio. Amongst the works that Thomas Calvert inherited, as opposed to buying, were three views of properties in Essex that were commissioned by Girtin’s father-in-law, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843) (such as TG1414). These were presumably passed to Thomas Calvert either from his mother, Mary Ann Girtin (1781–1843) or, more probably, from Borrett himself, who died in the same year. There is just a possibility therefore, that this watercolour, which appears to date from about the same time (around 1798–99), was acquired by inheritance and that it shows an Essex scene that held some personal significance for the Girtin family.

1796 - 1797

Great Bookham Church


(?) 1799

Turver’s Farm, Wimbish


by Greg Smith

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