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Works Thomas Girtin after (?) James Moore

Byland Abbey

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG0087: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after (?) James Moore (1762–99), Byland Abbey, 1792–93, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, on an original washline mount, 21.6 × 16.9 cm, 8 ½ × 6 ⅝ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1934.117).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) James Moore (1762-1799)
  • Byland Abbey
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, on an original washline mount
21.6 × 16.9 cm, 8 ½ × 6 ⅝ in
Mount Dimensions
28.2 × 23.2 cm, 11 ⅛ × 9 ⅛ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Monastic Renmains; Yorkshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2016


James Moore (1762–99); his widow, Mary Moore (née Howett) (d.1835); bequeathed to Anne Miller (1802–90); bequeathed to Edward Mansel Miller (1829–1912); bequeathed to Helen Louisa Miller (1842–1915); bought by Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931), 1912, £20; his widow, Isabella Barnard; bequeathed to the Museum, 1934

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1857, no.79; Leeds, 1937, no.23; Manchester, 1975, no.4; London, 2002, no.35


Mayne, 1949, p.99; Brown, 1982, p.325, no.710

About this Work

George Isham Parkyns (c.1749–1824), after James Moore (1762–99), aquatint, 'Byland Abbey' for <i>Monastic Remains and Ancient Castles in England and Wales</i>, p.27, 1 August 1791, 10.1 × 7.3 cm, 4 × 2 ⅞ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Library.

This view of the west front of Byland Abbey in Yorkshire, seen from the interior of the ruined church, was almost certainly made after an untraced sketch by the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), and Girtin did not visit the site himself. Girtin’s earliest patron toured Yorkshire in the autumn of 1789 and he sketched the abbey ruins in late September. An aquatint by George Isham Parkyns (c.1749–1824) after a drawing by Moore, which was published in the latter’s Monastic Remains and Ancient Castles in England and Wales (see figure 1) (Moore, 1792), shows a view of the west front from outside. The abbey was also depicted by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), but this watercolour is typical in every respect of the works the young artist produced after the amateur’s rather mundane sketches, and he was surely the source for the image here. Girtin is documented as having worked for Moore between October 1792 and February 1793 for a fee of six shillings a day, producing watercolours on paper generally measuring roughly 6 ½ × 8 ½ in (16.5 × 21.5 cm), each of which, as here, was carefully mounted (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 The majority of the drawings remained in the ownership of Moore’s family until the collection was broken up after 1912, when a descendant of the artist bought this work.

Moore described the ruins of the Cistercian abbey of Byland as ‘miserably destroyed’ (Moore, 1792, p.27), but Girtin was able to create a more positive image by showing the setting sun shining through the missing windows of the least damaged part of the building: the west front with its fine rose window. The more optimistic mood is maintained even in the dark foreground of lush vegetation, which includes a pair of young lovers. Moore’s sketch would not have included any details of weather or light that might have suggested such a treatment to Girtin, and his choice of a warm evening glow reflected his growing ambition to add another element to Moore’s bald memoranda of architectural facts. The young artist must have been supported in this by his patron, who presumably turned a blind eye to the mistake that Girtin perpetrated. Comparing the watercolour with the aquatint published by Moore (see figure 1) or Girtin’s own later view of the west front (TG0234), one can readily see that the artist shows just two of the three broad lancet windows that underpin the ruined rose window. Working from his patron’s pencil drawing, he would not have known that a combination of the tree to the left and a fragment of the nave arcade coming out at a right angle to the inner facade of the west front obscured a third lancet, and Girtin shows the area as a confused and unresolved mass of masonry, spreading the other two windows out to fit the space.

The paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a white wove drawing paper, probably manufactured by James Whatman the Younger (1741–98) at Turkey Mill, Kent (Smith, 2002b, p.57; Bower, Report).

1795 - 1796

The West Front of Byland Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The document detailing the payments made to the young Girtin by Moore is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1792–93 – Item 1).

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