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Works Thomas Girtin

Boston Church, from the South West

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1027: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Boston Church, from the South West, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 35.1 × 48.9 cm, 13 ⅞ × 19 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: Bartholomew Howlett (1767–1827), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), etching and engraving, 'Boston Church' for A Selection of Views in the County of Lincoln, 10 January 1799, 27 × 33.8 cm, 10 ⅝ × 13 ¼ in. British Museum, London (1878,1214.564).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Boston Church, from the South West
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
35.1 × 48.9 cm, 13 ⅞ × 19 ¼ in

'Wm Brand Boston Lincolnshire / proprietor / 28 July 1812' on a label attached to the backboard

Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Lincolnshire

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
147 as 'Boston Church'; '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2016


William Brand (active 1795–1805), by 1812; John Cust, 2nd Baron Brownlow (1779–1853); then by descent to Adelaide Florence Caroline Hooman (née Cust) (Davies, 1924); then by descent to Stella de Wergifosse; her posthumous sale, Christie's, 5 July 2016, lot 96, £74,500

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1953a, no.4


Davies, 1924, pl.26

About this Work

John Walker (active 1776–1802), after William Brand (active 1795–1805), etching and engraving, 'Boston' for <i>The Copper-Plate Magazine</i>, vol.2, pl.89, no.45, 1 October 1795, 15 × 20 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (J,11.46).

This watercolour of St Botolph’s Church on the river Witham in Boston in Lincolnshire, with its magnificent steeple rising to almost ninety metres, was engraved in 1799 by Bartholomew Howlett (1767–1827) for his publication A Selection of Views in the County of Lincoln (see the print after, above) (Howlett, 1805). Girtin visited the county in 1794 in the company of his earliest patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), and two of the views of Lincoln that he made for his patron after his own on-the-spot sketches were included by Howlett in Views in the County of Lincoln (TG1008 and TG1010). However, many of the remaining eight views that were engraved after Girtin’s Lincolnshire scenes were made from sketches taken by other artists, including Howlett himself, who provided the model for Girtin’s watercolour of Tattershall Castle (TG1031), which comes from the same collection as this drawing – it is likely that the two may even have been made as a pair. It is possible that Girtin visited and sketched Boston in 1794, and no other artist is credited on the print, but it is more likely that the watercolour was made from another source. Given that the first owner of the watercolour, William Brand (active 1795–1805), was a competent amateur, it may have been one of his sketches that was used. It was a common practice amongst publishers of topographical collections targeted at the antiquarian market to petition local amateur artists for material and then employ a professional artist to render it in a suitable form for engraving. Brand, who lived in Boston and was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, produced a number of views of the town and its famous church. Indeed, he provided a similar view of the church, also viewed from the port at Boston, for John Walker (active 1776–1802) to engrave for his comparable publication, The Copper-Plate Magazine (see figure 1) (Walker, 1792–1802). If Girtin did indeed work from the sketch of an amateur artist in this case, it might help to account for the attenuated proportions of a tower known as the Boston ‘Stump’, which, as Tom Girtin (1913–94) noted, is not as thin and unsubstantial as the structure depicted here (Girtin Archive, 34). This is particularly apparent in a watercolour that in other respects shows greater stylistic maturity compared to the other Lincolnshire views, particularly in the way the building is integrated into its setting. It must surely be one of the latest drawings engraved by Howlett, dating from around 1798, when what appears to have been its pair, Tattershall Castle, from the South West, was produced.

It seems that Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) may have initially been lined up for the commission as a note in the inside cover of a sketchbook the artist employed on his northern tour in 1796 records ‘Mr Howlett Boston Church’ (Tate, Turner Bequest, XXXIV). Turner’s sketch of a close view of the tower (XXXIV 81a), with the south porch prominent and none of the town visible, does not appear to have satisfied Howlett, however. And, as was the case with another subject listed by Turner, ‘Mr Howlett Louth Church’ (see TG1029), no finished watercolour by Turner was produced and the commission passed to Girtin who was presumably content to work from the sketch of an artist more in tune with the needs of the publisher. All of which supports the suggestion of a later dating for this watercolour.

Howlett’s Views in the County of Lincoln is typical of the numerous topographical publications of the period that assembled, often over a long period (in this case 1797–1805), a collection of engravings of modest size and decent competency with a brief text for each. The text was published at the end of the run, allowing the subscribers, who had paid three shillings for each of its twenty-five numbers, to have the material bound together in book form. The text appended to this print, as an early reviewer noted, contained ‘little to interest the topographical reader’ and, indeed, the ‘principal feature of this volume is its “pretty pictures”’. However, of the seventy-five prints published by Howlett, only those ‘from drawings, by Turner and Girtin, are pleasing and beautiful’ and even then, the writer continued, ‘they make the remaining subjects appear more insipid and tasteless by contrast’ (Annual Review, 1806, vol.4, p.422).


Lincoln Cathedral, from the West


1794 - 1795

Lincoln, from the Brayford Pool


1797 - 1798

Tattershall Castle, from the South West


1796 - 1797

Louth Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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