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Works Thomas Girtin

An Interior View of the Ruins of the Savoy Hospital

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0348: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), An Interior View of the Ruins of the Savoy Hospital, 1795–96, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 22.8 × 28.8 cm, 9 × 11 ⅜ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1934.131).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Interior View of the Ruins of the Savoy Hospital
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
22.8 × 28.8 cm, 9 × 11 ⅜ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
London and Environs; Urban Ruins

An Interior View of the Ruins of the Savoy Hospital (TG0369)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
120ii as 'Ruins of the Savoy Palace'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2016


James Moore (1762–99); his widow, Mary Moore (née Howett) (d.1835); bequeathed to Anne Miller (1802–90); bequeathed to Edward Mansel Miller (1829–1912); bequeathed to Helen Louisa Miller (1842–1915); bought by Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931), 1912, £20; his widow, Isabella Barnard; bequeathed to the Museum, 1934

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.110 as 'Ruins of the Savoy Hospital'; London, 2002, no.67


Bell, 1915–17, p.76; Davies, 1924, pl.12; Mayne, 1949, p.99; Flett, 1981, p.138; Brown, 1982, pp.332–333, no.724 as 'The Ruins of the Chapel in the Savoy Palace, London'; Morris, 1986, p.14

About this Work

Girtin produced as many as ten views of the ruins in the precincts of the Savoy on a site adjacent to Somerset House that stretched uphill from the north bank of the Thames to the Strand. The three different compositions developed by Girtin have generally been described as showing the ruins of the Savoy Palace, but the medieval palace was actually rebuilt as a hospital for the poor after being substantially damaged during the Peasants’ Revolt (1381), and the great dormitories of the Savoy Hospital, built in the shape of a large basilica, were constructed between 1510 and 1515 to accommodate a hundred beds (see TG0240 figure 2). By the early seventeenth century, however, the Hospital had been taken over, first for the treatment of injured soldiers and then as a barracks, before a fire in 1776 reduced much of the structure to ruins, though some of the ancillary buildings, including the Savoy Chapel and the prison, remained intact. Fortunately, the Hospital was well documented, both prior to and following the fire, and we are now therefore in a position to locate each of Girtin’s views with some precision.

Girtin’s watercolour was made from a pencil study (TG0240) that was taken from a low viewpoint in the northern transept of the ruined hospital dormitory looking to the north, with the modern buildings of the Strand appearing behind the blocked-up late Gothic window. Concentrating on a small part of the dormitory points up the incongruity of the medieval ruins and their modern setting yards from London’s busiest street, and this is enhanced by details such as the clothes drying from a modern window inserted into the ancient fabric and the two figures, who do not appear in the highly detailed drawing. Antiquarians such as James Moore (1762–99), who commissioned this work, were often motivated by a concern that the nation’s antiquities were doomed to disappear. The role of the artist in recording buildings under threat of falling to modern ‘improvement’ was particularly significant in urban settings and London in particular, and this view was soon to disappear with the construction of the Strand Bridge (1811–17), later renamed Waterloo Bridge.

The watercolour, painted on what the paper historian Peter Bower has identified as a white wove writing paper, probably manufactured by James Whatman the Younger (1741–98), is notable for a number of technical details that mark the substantial changes in Girtin’s practice around 1795–96 (Smith, 2002b, p.92; Bower, Report). The small area of the sky with its fluid washes laid in with dispatch, wet in wet, contrasts with the bright, warm tonality of the stone with its orange highlights. The contrast of cool and warm and the brighter overall tone mark a significant shift from the paler palette of Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), with its neutral underpainting. Over this Girtin added prominent pen and ink details that replicate the effect of the rich, dark highlights he worked up in the pencil drawing by applying greater pressure to the graphite. Details that might normally be effaced by the application of watercolour are returned in an eye-catching manner and in a way that recalls the drawings of Giovanni Antonio Canale (Canaletto) (1697–1768), which the artist appears to have begun to study at this date (see TG0226 figure 2).

1795 - 1796

An Interior View of the Ruins of the Savoy Hospital


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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