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Works Thomas Girtin after Tavernier de Jonquières

An Interior View of the Nave of Laon Cathedral

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1911: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Tavernier de Jonquières (unknown dates), An Interior View of the Nave of Laon Cathedral, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 40.4 × 30.8 cm, 15 ⅞ × 12 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1878,1228.18).

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

Artist's source: François-Denis Née (1732–1818), after Tavernier de Jonquières (unknown dates), engraving, 'Vue Intérieure de la Nef de L'Eglise Cathédrale de Laon' for Voyage Pittoresque de la France, vol.6, pl.5, 1787, 17.7 × 24.9 cm, 7 × 9 ¹³⁄₁₆ in. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

Photo courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Tavernier de Jonquières (unknown dates-)
  • An Interior View of the Nave of Laon Cathedral
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
40.4 × 30.8 cm, 15 ⅞ × 12 ⅛ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary Foreign
Subject Terms
French View; Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Henderson (1764–1843); then by descent to John Henderson II (1797–1878) (lent to London, 1875); presented to the Museum, 1858

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.71 as ’Canterbury Cathedral, Interior’


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.54 as 'Interior of Canterbury Cathedral'; Davies, 1924, p.26; Smith, 2017–18, p.40 as 'Interior View of the Nave of Laon Cathedral'

About this Work

The attribution to Girtin of this watercolour, which until recently was bizarrely identified as showing Canterbury Cathedral, was questioned by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), who thought it was by John Henderson (1764–1843) (Girtin Archive, 14). However, although the quality is not high, with out-of-scale figures and exaggerated recession, the attribution is secure, particularly now that the subject has been correctly identified as Laon Cathedral (Smith, 2017–18, p.35). Moreover, given that Girtin almost certainly did not visit Laon during his stay in France in the winter and early spring of 1801–2, it is also now known that he based his watercolour on a print, and any problems with the perspective of the building can therefore be ascribed to the shortcomings of his source. The newly discovered origin of Girtin’s watercolour turns out to be an engraving after Tavernier de Jonquières (unknown dates) titled Vue Intérieure de la Nef de L’Eglise Cathédrale de Laon, which was included in Voyage Pittoresque de la France (vol.6, 1787) (see the source image above) (La Borde and others, 1781–1800). Girtin may have acquired this when he was in France and it was possibly amongst the ‘Books of French prints of … Landscapes unbound’ that were left in his studio at his death (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 Other watercolours made from prints from the Voyage Pittoresque include Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny (TG1896 and TG1897), Lyon Cathedral (TG1907), The Church of Saint Corneille at Compiègne (TG1908) and The Porte Chapelle, Compiègne (TG1909), which constitute a distinctive and coherent group of architectural views. Although none of the works were made from on-the spot sketches, it still cannot be said for sure whether they were produced on the artist’s return to England or whether they were painted in France. Indeed, the fact that they were created from earlier prints actually means that we cannot rule out what would once have been an unthinkable alternative – namely, that this and some of the other French views may even predate the artist’s trip. 

As with the other copies of prints from the Voyage Pittoresque, Girtin adapted – and improved upon – the original composition. Radically cropping the scene to the right changed the format to a vertical composition, creating a more immersive experience for the spectator and emphasising the height of the building. The figures, too, are reduced in number and size, helping to make this the most effective of the artist’s copies of a French source, with the use of what is in effect a monochrome palette contributing to a real sense of drama.

(?) 1802

Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny


(?) 1802

Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny


(?) 1802

Lyon Cathedral


(?) 1802

The Church of Saint Corneille at Compiègne


(?) 1802

The Porte Chapelle, Compiègne


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The financial records of John Girtin covering the income he received from the sale of the contents of his brother's studio, as well as from the  Eidometropolis and the twenty aquatints of the Picturesque Views in Paris, together with a detailed account of the expenses from both projects, are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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