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Works Thomas Girtin

A Ruined Church next to a River

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1528: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Ruined Church next to a River, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 12.5 × 19 cm, 4 ⅞ × 7 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Ruined Church next to a River
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
12.5 × 19 cm, 4 ⅞ × 7 ½ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2019


George Beatson Blair (d.1940); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 20 December 1946, lot 23 as 'The Ruins of an Abbey'; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons; A. W. Thompson; Mrs E. D. Thompson; her sale, Sotheby’s, 16 July 1975, lot 235 as 'A Ruined Riverside Abbey', £425; Brian Sinfield, Grafton House Gallery; private collection, 1990, and then by descent; Lyon & Turnbull, London, 30 October 2019, lot 6, £5,500

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1947, no.18 as ’The ruins of an abbey’, £36 15s

About this Work

Although this sketch roughly coincides with the size of the drawings that Girtin made in Yorkshire in the summer of 1799 or 1800, there is no question of it being an on-the-spot sketch coloured from nature. The paper is marginally too large to have come from the sketchbook that Girtin appears to have used on either or both of the trips, and the subject itself is surely an imaginary one. The drawing has previously been titled The Ruins of an Abbey, but the form of the ruined gable end and its position next to a bend in a river do not conform to any of the sites that Girtin visited on his northern tours, and the form of the structure, together with its uncertain scale, more closely resembles a sham ruin in a country park. The idea that this sheet was worked in the studio from the imagination would appear to be undermined by the spontaneous way that Girtin created the image using a limited palette, washed rapidly over the simplest of pencil drawings, to evoke a tranquil sunlit day with the minimum of fuss. However, just because, in technical terms, it could have been painted on the spot does not mean that it was. Following the thought that the subject is an imaginary one, it makes more sense to relate it to other examples of sketches that were made to meet the demand from an art market that prized the less formal side of Girtin’s output. The qualities of spontaneity and fidelity to nature that were appreciated by sympathetic collectors, many of whom were amateur watercolourists themselves, could just as easily be fabricated in the studio, and works such as this, which purport to have been sketched from nature, outnumber many times those that Girtin actually coloured on the spot for his own instruction and use.

by Greg Smith

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