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Works Thomas Girtin

An Old Bridge, Possibly near Abbotsbury

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1242: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), An Old Bridge, Possibly near Abbotsbury, 1797–98, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 22.2 × 30 cm, 8 ¾ × 11 ¾ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.6178).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Old Bridge, Possibly near Abbotsbury
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
22.2 × 30 cm, 8 ¾ × 11 ¾ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
The West Country: Devon and Dorset

An Old Bridge, Possibly near Abbotsbury (TG1243)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
284 as 'Village and Castle Beyond a Bridge and Stream'; '1798-9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Thomas Ashton (1818–98); then by descent to Mildred Lupton (1891–1954); Thos. Agnew & Sons; bought from them by Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1961; presented to the Center, 1977

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1961, no.45 as ’The Old Bridge’; Washington, 1962a, no.37; New Haven, 1986a, no.57 as ’The Old Bridge in Devon’


YCBA Online as 'The Old Bridge in Devon' (Accessed 15/09/2022)

About this Work

This is the slightly smaller of two versions of a view of a bridge with an unidentified village beyond and a distant hill with what seems to be a chapel in silhouette (the other being TG1243). The building on the hill has tentatively been identified as St Michael’s Tower on Glastonbury Tor, but it seems closer in appearance to St Catherine’s Chapel at Abbotsbury, a building that appears in the background of Girtin’s earlier depiction of the great tithe barn (TG0146). However, I have not been able to find a two-arched bridge that might fit in with the local topography of Dorset, and, although the view does have a pronounced West Country feel to it, the location has so far eluded a definitive identification. A faint pencil sketch on the reverse of the drawing, showing buildings with water in front of them, could conceivably be the monumental barn that features in other views of Abbotsbury (TG1245), but it is difficult to work out why Girtin might have sketched a related scene on the back of what is clearly a studio work, not least because it is possible that the slightly larger version of the composition (TG1243) is the on-the-spot sketch on which this work is based.

Girtin only dated a tiny handful of the works that originated from his first two major tours, to the north east in 1796 and the West Country a year later, and a relatively small and modest work such as this is, not surprisingly, unsigned. However, although the work is clearly not of the highest standard – for instance, the vegetation on the bridge is employed to hide the insecure perspective, and there are other signs of the work being rushed, including the male figure on the bridge being left as a pencil outline – there is no question about the attribution of the work to Girtin. The watercolour is not in particularly good condition either, with one of the blues, used for the sky, having faded, whilst the vegetation has lost some of its depth, with the result that the white bodycolour, used for the highlights on the tower to the right and elsewhere, has become too dominant. The latter feature helps with the dating of the work, however, since, as Susan Morris has pointed out, Girtin’s use of bodycolour was concentrated around the years 1797–98 as he sought a ‘high key and strong contrasts’ (Morris, 1986, p.17). All of this would fit with a work produced after the artist’s return from the West Country and, more specifically, with an informal sketch-like commodity, which at this time Girtin aimed at the lower strata of the art market, where less finish, and a consequently lower price tag, was much appreciated.

(?) 1797

An Old Bridge, Possibly near Abbotsbury


1792 - 1793

The Tithe Barn at Abbotsbury, with St Catherine’s Chapel on the Hill


1797 - 1798

The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury


(?) 1797

An Old Bridge, Possibly near Abbotsbury


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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