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Works Thomas Girtin

Capel Church

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG0857: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Capel Church, 1797–98, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 31.3 × 40.7 cm, 12 ⅜ × 16 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1200).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Capel Church
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
31.3 × 40.7 cm, 12 ⅜ × 16 in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Surrey View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
328 as 1799
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 1 July 1833, lot 119 as by 'Girtin'; bought by 'Roberts', £5 12s; John Serjeant; his sale, Southgate, 14 March 1834, lot 40 as 'a fine Specimen of the Master, from the Collection of Dr. Monro'; bought by 'Shirley', £4 4s; Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911) (lent to London, 1875); then by descent to 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

London, 1875, no.64 as ’View of a Church’; Cambridge, 1920, no.26 as ’Capel Church, Surrey’; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.35; London, 1962a, no.151; New Haven, 1986a, no.74 as ’c.1799’


Davies, 1924, pl.35; YCBA Online as 'Chapel Church, Surrey' (Accessed 13/09/2022)

About this Work

This sadly faded watercolour, showing the west end of the church of St John the Baptist at Capel in Surrey, came from the collection of the artist’s early patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). It is almost certainly the work sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 as ‘Capel church, Surrey’ (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 July 1833, lot 119), and its presence in the collection is confirmed by the fact that it was copied by the patron’s son, John Monro (1801–80) (see figure 1). Capel is about fifteen kilometres south of Fetcham, where Monro rented a cottage between the years 1795 and 1805 (see figure 2), and it is likely that Girtin joined his patron there to make sketches in the area. John Linnell (1792–1882), who knew Monro at a slightly later date, claimed that the patron took Girtin, as well as his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), ‘out to one or other of his country houses or elsewhere to sketch for him from Nature’ (Story, 1892, vol.1, p.41), and the 1833 sale catalogue included a number of other Surrey scenes by Girtin in addition to Capel, including views of nearby Box Hill and Norbury Park, as well as Effingham Church (TG0345) (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 July 1833, lots 112, 114, 116 and 119). Thus, in addition to the hundreds of copies of outlines by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that Girtin realised as watercolours with Turner, as well as the larger architectural subjects that he depicted for Monro, such as Durham Cathedral, from the South West (TG0919), the patron also acquired a group of local topographical scenes that had a more personal resonance. At least four of the church views that Girtin painted from sketches made in the vicinity of Fetcham have been identified (including TG0345 and TG0351), though neither the view of Box Hill nor the one of Norbury Park has yet been traced (Piggott, 1994, pp.8–10). However, I suspect that they may yet be found amongst the many watercolours that are currently attributed to Turner with similar titles.

The very faded condition of this watercolour, which has seen the complete loss of the sky and the reduction of the greens of the foliage to a dull monochrome, has spoilt what must have been a significant late commission from Monro. No doubt the watercolour has been exhibited in strong light and this has facilitated the fading process, but fundamentally it was Girtin’s choice of fugitive pigments used in multiple thin washes that caused the problem. Just two unstable pigments, probably blue indigo and yellow gamboge, if used for the blue parts of the sky, the greens of the vegetation and the greys of the clouds, would have been enough to account for the drastic deterioration seen here. Highlights added in bodycolour have not been affected, however, and something of the care and labour that went into the work can also be seen in the way that the artist rubbed out some of the washes in the west porch to depict the beam of light. The mass of fingerprints seen in the bottom left is another way in which the artist manipulated the paper surface to create a different texture, since the effect appears to be systematic rather than the result of careless handling.

1797 - 1798

Effingham Church


1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral, from the South West


1797 - 1798

Effingham Church


1795 - 1796

Mickleham Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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