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Works Thomas Girtin

An Unidentified Country Church and Churchyard

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG1448: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), An Unidentified Country Church and Churchyard, 1795–96, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 18.2 × 20.2 cm, 7 ⅛ × 8 in. Private Collection, Norfolk (I/E/18).

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • An Unidentified Country Church and Churchyard
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper
18.2 × 20.2 cm, 7 ⅛ × 8 in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
172 as 'A Country Church and Churchyard'; '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and April 2022


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911); by a settlement to his sister, Ida Johanna Hog Rogge, née Girtin (1834–1925), January 1880 as 'Church and Churchyard'; sold by her to J. Palser & Sons, 1901; bought from them by Sir Hickman Bacon (1855–1945); then by descent

Exhibition History

London, 1946, no.88; Arts Council, 1946, no.73; Boston, 1948, no.127; Dulwich, 2001, no.8 as ’A Country Church with Spire ... late 1790s?’


Davies, 1924, pl.59

About this Work

All attempts to identify the subject of this work have failed, which is surprising given the idiosyncratic form of the church, with its Early English chancel dwarfing a fourteenth-century nave and a fine spire rounding off the composition. Without being able to identify the location, it is difficult to say whether Girtin worked from a drawing sketched on his travels or whether the work was copied from another source. The fact that the watercolour appears to date from around 1795–96, on stylistic grounds, limits the potential candidates for the former possibility to either a building immediately adjacent to London or one seen on the 1794 trip to the Midland counties that Girtin undertook with his earliest patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99). The octagonal form of the spire with its prominent series of lucarnes is characteristic of a group of churches in Northamptonshire that includes St John the Baptist, Harringworth. It is possible that Girtin sketched just such a building in 1794, though the often radical changes that medieval buildings were subjected to during the Victorian era mean that we may never identify the subject in this way. If we are to locate the church, it will in all probability be because of the discovery of a contemporary drawing that has been inscribed, and, given that Moore provided Girtin with the sources for numerous views of the nation’s medieval heritage, his sketches may provide the missing clue here. The fact that this work did not come from Moore’s collection, unlike the similar view of Tolleshunt D’Arcy Church (TG0317), does not preclude the possibility that one of his pencil outlines was used by Girtin, however. The artist used pencil copies of Moore’s sketches to create a number of watercolours for other early patrons, including three views of Valle Crucis Abbey (TG0204, TG0208 and TG0159), none of which were owned by the antiquarian, and this is what I suspect happened in this case too.

The late Eric Shanes has suggested that Girtin was in a ‘moralizing mood when he portrayed’ the graveyard, claiming that ‘a child peers into an open grave as its mother and a gravedigger look on’ (Shanes, 2001, p.28). I am not sure that I see an open grave – it looks more like a clumsily painted shadow – but the artist surely meant to make a general point about mortality in keeping with the setting, and he reinforced this by adding the figure of an old man tottering towards the church with the help of a stick. This was clearly added at the last minute as pen lines used to depict the building show through the figure.

(?) 1795

Tolleshunt D’Arcy Church


1795 - 1800

The East End of Valle Crucis Abbey Church


1792 - 1793

The East End of Valle Crucis Abbey Church


1793 - 1794

The East End of Valle Crucis Abbey Church


by Greg Smith

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