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Works Thomas Girtin

Bisham Abbey, on the River Thames

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1425a: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Bisham Abbey, on the River Thames, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on paper, 12.5 × 29.8 cm, 4 ⅞ × 11 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Bisham Abbey, on the River Thames
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
12.5 × 29.8 cm, 4 ⅞ × 11 ¾ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Berkshire View; Country House View; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Edward Thomas; his sale, Christie’s, 9 April 1891, lot 432; bought by 'Sugden', £3 5s; Christie's, 7 July 1902, lot 61; Leggatt Brothers, London; Hudson Kearley, 1st Viscount Davenport (1856–1934); then by descent; Sotheby's, New York, 29 January 2020, lot 46, $16,250

About this Work

This faded panoramic view of Bisham Abbey, on the river Thames in Berkshire, appeared on the art market in 2020, having not been seen in public for over a century. Bisham is close to Marlow, which was the subject of a number of Girtin’s earliest watercolours (such as TG0058) as well as a work that was engraved for The Copper-Plate Magazine in 1797 (TG0344a) (Walker, 1792–1802). Whilst the earliest of the views were made after sketches by the artist’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), there is a possibility that Girtin did visit this stretch of the Thames sometime in the mid-1790s to produce the latter view of Marlow, in which case this drawing too may have been based on an earlier on-the-spot sketch. However, although this is a more likely scenario than the idea that the artist made a later visit to the site, say around 1799–1800 (the date when this drawing appears to have been made), I suspect that his view of Bisham was also created from the work of another artist. Certainly, it would have been highly uncharacteristic of the artist to have made a special visit to an out-of-town location when there was no major commission in sight, and when this modest work was the only outcome. Bisham Abbey, the home of George Vansittart (1745–1825), was well known at the time, being the subject of at least three contemporary prints, so that even if Girtin did not have access to a sketch by Dayes or an amateur artist such as James Moore (1762–99), he could have borrowed elements from published views and fabricated a typical river scene in the foreground. A combination of a view produced for The Copper-Plate Magazine in 1792 (see figure 1) and an almost contemporary scene by Joseph Farington (1747–1821) (see figure 2), showing more of the river and the background landscape, could therefore have provided the basis for the work.

The watercolour has faded badly, so that the greys and blues in the sky have all but disappeared, whilst the greens of the vegetation have changed to various earth tones, with the result that much of the underlying pencil work shows up prominently, and the drawing has a more sketchy appearance than was no doubt originally the case. The latter feature, combined with the limited palette employed by the artist, might suggest a sketch coloured on the spot. However, I suspect that, as with so many of the sketch-like works that Girtin painted in his last years, this one was produced in the studio to meet the demand from an art market that prized the less formal side of his output.

1791 - 1792

Tintern Abbey, from the River Wye


1795 - 1796

A Distant View of Marlow, from the River Thames


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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