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Works (?) Thomas Girtin after (?) Edward Dayes

An Interior View of St Albans Abbey, from the Crossing

1791 - 1792

Primary Image: TG1039: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763–1804), An Interior View of St Albans Abbey, from the Crossing, 1791–92, watercolour on wove paper, 56.5 × 47.6 cm, 22 ¼ × 18 ¾ in. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (0.1876).

Photo courtesy of Art Gallery of South Australia (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • An Interior View of St Albans Abbey, from the Crossing
1791 - 1792
Medium and Support
Watercolour on wove paper
56.5 × 47.6 cm, 22 ¼ × 18 ¾ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Hertfordshire

The Interior of St Albans Abbey (TG1040)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
136i as 'St. Alban's Cathedral'; '1795–6'
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


Sir William Tite (1798–1873) (lent to London, 1871; London, 1873); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 4 July 1874, lot 2; bought by 'Noseda'; Edward Cohen (1817–86), £117 12s (lent to London, 1875; London, 1877); then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1931 (stock no.1225); James Leslie Wright (1862–1954) (lent to Birmingham, 1939); the Fine Art Society, London; bought from them by the Gallery, 1960

Exhibition History

London, 1871, no.113 as ’Interior of St. Albans’ Abbey Church’; London, 1873, no.381; London, 1875, no.104 as 'Interior of St. Albans' Abbey'; London, 1877, no.299 as ’Interior of Winchester Cathedral’; Agnew’s, 1931, no.110; Agnew's, 1933, no.74 as 'Interior of Winchester Cathedral'; Birmingham, 1939, no.194a; London, 1949, no.182; Fine Art Society, 1951, no.30; Fine Art Society, 1954, no.30


Country Life, vol.79, no.2048 (18 April 1936), p.xliv; Gallery Website as by a 'follower of Thomas Girtin' (Accessed 26/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the choir of St Albans Abbey, taken from the crossing, is at first sight close to the composition that Girtin exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1797 (TG1040). The slightly smaller watercolour, signed and dated 1796, differs from this work in a number of respects, however, and in ways that suggest that it was not painted by Girtin a year earlier, as Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak argued (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.136). The most striking difference is the presence in the foreground of a wholly fictitious pair of fluted Corinthian columns, which frame the view and support a massive curtain, which rises to the full height of the nave. This creates a wholly improbable and inappropriate conceit of a stage proscenium, from which the choir and parts of the transept open out as in a stage set, though this admittedly dramatises the different viewing position, a few metres further back and to the left. The form of the column and the great swag of drapery to the left, redolent of the more formal portraits of Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641), strikes a particularly discordant note in what is otherwise a careful record of the mix of styles of a building that had seen more than its fair share of changes. The slightly different viewpoint thus adds the Norman transepts to the varied elements shown by Girtin in the 1796 view, including the thirteenth-century choir, the late Gothic high altar screen, and the seventeenth-century pews, balcony and pulpit, which were all added after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when part of the choir and crossing were converted into a parish church. Girtin’s later signed view also includes a wide range of lively figures, which gives the image a compelling sense that the building had an important role to play within its community, and, as a result, the view is more than just the architectural record shown here.

The owner of this watercolour, the Art Gallery of South Australia, has catalogued it as by a ‘follower of Thomas Girtin’, but, whilst there are important questions to be asked about the attribution, I doubt whether the view was produced by someone working in Girtin’s style from the dated watercolour, as the tag ‘follower’ implies. Instead, I want to suggest that the work was painted by Girtin, but significantly earlier than the date proposed by Girtin and Loshak, and that it was based on the work of another artist, presumably Edward Dayes (1763–1804). The crucial evidence here is the very early auction reference from November 1791 which notes a view of 'St Albans ... Girtin' sold with another of 'Windsor castle' for £1 4s (Greenwood, 1791, lot 49). This may not have been this relatively large scale watercolour, but the fact that the sale dates from the period of Girtin's apprenticeship to Dayes suggests that a sketch by his master provided the model for this work. Certainly, if the watercolour dates from, say, 1791–92, the introduction of the imaginary columns might be explained by Girtin’s immaturity and the fact that he had not yet seen the building he was depicting. The heavier style of the work – comparable with that of another early church interior framed by classical columns, London: Interior of St Stephen Walbrook, Looking East (TG0014) – is certainly very different from the 1796 view. This again suggests that it was produced, not by an inferior artist working in his style, but by a younger Girtin who depicted the building from a secondary source and was unable to breathe life into the results. An alternative thought, that this view of the interior of the abbey is by Dayes and was actually the source from which Girtin produced his 1796 watercolour, can be discounted, despite the fact that it provides an explanation for the stylistic differences between the two views. Thus, although Girtin could plausibly have brought his composition forward to omit the crossing in the interests of dramatic impact, the slightly different viewpoint of the earlier work means that the artist would have had to have invented details in the northern arcade of the choir, which is implausible given their fidelity to the original.



The Interior of St Albans Abbey



London: Interior of St Stephen Walbrook, Looking East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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