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Works Thomas Girtin

Bristol: St Mary Redcliffe, from the Harbour

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG1286: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Bristol: St Mary Redcliffe, from the Harbour, (?) 1797, graphite on laid paper, 9.1 × 15.8 cm, 3 ⅝ × 6 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1187).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Bristol: St Mary Redcliffe, from the Harbour
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite on laid paper
9.1 × 15.8 cm, 3 ⅝ × 6 ¼ in (irregular)

'No 7' on the back

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Docks and Canals; Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Somerset and Bristol

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
210 as 'St. Mary Redcliff'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Dr John Percy (1817–89); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 17 April 1890, lot 505 (one of 9); bought by 'Vokins', £2 2s; J & W Vokins; John Postle Heseltine (1843–1929); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 29 May 1935, lot 313; volume bought by Bernard Squire, £32; bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

New Haven, 1986a, no.60

About this Work

John Walker (active 1776–1802), after Francis Nicholson (1753–1844), etching and engraving, 'Bristol' for <i>The Copper-Plate Magazine</i>, vol.4, no.90, pl.180, 1 July 1799, 15 × 20 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1862,0712.906).

This is one of two similarly sized pencil sketches of the fine Gothic church of St Mary Redcliffe seen from Bristol harbour that Girtin appears to have made on the return leg of his West Country tour of 1797. The other view, taken from a few metres closer but also looking to the east (TG1287), was realised as a studio watercolour in 1800 (TG1727). However, rather than see this as 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 certainly fit stylistically with the more economical sketches of port scenes that the artist executed earlier 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 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).

A year later Girtin’s great contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1802) visited Bristol at the outset of his extensive tour of Wales and he sketched a similar view of shipping in the harbour with St Mary Redcliffe beyond (Tate, Turner Bequest, XLII 28-29).  It is possible that Turner had Girtin’s drawing in mind, but this was such a commonly depicted view it is more likely that both artists independently availed themselves of a convenient spot from which to make their sketches.

(?) 1797

Bristol Harbour and St Mary Redcliffe



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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