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Works Thomas Girtin

Bristol Harbour and St Mary Redcliffe

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG1287: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Bristol Harbour and St Mary Redcliffe, (?) 1797, graphite on laid paper, 8.7 × 15 cm, 3 ⅜ × 5 ⅞ in. Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (K2215).

Photo courtesy of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Bristol Harbour and St Mary Redcliffe
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite on laid paper
8.7 × 15 cm, 3 ⅜ × 5 ⅞ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Docks and Canals; Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Somerset and Bristol

Bristol Harbour, with St Mary Redcliffe in the Distance (TG1727)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
209i as 'St. Mary Redcliff, Bristol'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Dr John Percy (1817-89); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 17 April 1890, possibly lot 505 (one of 9); bought by 'Dowdeswell', £2 2s; John Postle Heseltine (1843–1929); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 29 May 1935, lot 313; volume bought by Bernard Squire, £32; ... Spink & Son Ltd, London; bought from them, November 1951, £18


Hawcroft, 1975, p.34

About this Work

This is one of two similarly sized pencil sketches of the fine Gothic church of St Mary Redcliffe seen from Bristol harbour that Girtin seems to have made on the return leg of his West Country tour of 1797 (the other being TG1286). This view, taken from near the present Prince Street Bridge looking to the east, was realised as a studio watercolour in 1800 (TG1727), leading Francis Hawcroft to suggest that the sketch too may have been executed at about the same date (Hawcroft, 1975, p.34). However, rather than the watercolour version being evidence of a later trip to the city, I believe that it, and another view of a boat-building scene at Bristol from the same date (TG1728), were produced for sale on the open market, with Girtin looking back to earlier sketches for suitable material to develop. The two pencil drawings of Bristol harbour certainly fit stylistically with the more economical sketches of port scenes that the artist executed on his 1797 trip (such as TG1260), and they also have a thematic link to the studies he made at Exeter, which similarly balance views of the city’s medieval heritage with its commercial and industrial infrastructure (such as TG1261). In this case, the great tower and spire of St Mary Redcliffe, which prior to its rebuilding in the nineteenth century was truncated by an earlier lightning strike, is thus shown surrounded by the ‘Manufactories of glass, sugar-works, foundaries, &c.’ that grew up around its harbour-side location (see TG1286 figure 1). As the text that accompanies a similar illustration in John Walker’s (active 1776–1802) Copper-Plate Magazine noted, Bristol, as ‘the second city in Great Britain’ had ‘the richest and best port of trade, London only excepted’, and Girtin, as a regular contributor to the publication, saw no conflict in balancing the contemporary and the historical in his views too (Walker, 1792–1802, vol.4, no.90, pl.180). However, as Girtin’s view also makes clear, the nation’s second ‘port of trade’ continued to work under the considerable disadvantage of being located on a tidal stretch of the river Avon, so that before the building of the Floating Harbour in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the ships were stranded twice daily in mud, albeit that this added picturesque interest for the many artists who depicted the scene, including Girtin’s colleague John Sell Cotman (1782–1842) (see TG1727 figure 2).

(?) 1797

Bristol: St Mary Redcliffe, from the Harbour



Bristol Harbour, with St Mary Redcliffe in the Distance



A Wharf with Shipping, Possibly at Bristol


(?) 1797

On the River Exe, Exeter


1799 - 1800

On the River Exe, Exeter


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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