For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept from the Cloister

1797 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1121: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept from the Cloister, 1797–99, graphite, watercolour and rubbing out on wove paper, 20.7 × 16.5 cm, 8 ⅛ × 6 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept from the Cloister
1797 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and rubbing out on wove paper
20.7 × 16.5 cm, 8 ⅛ × 6 ½ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; The Scottish Borders

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
193 as 'Dryburgh Abbey'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in July 2023


Charles Plumptre Johnson (1853–1938); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 22 April 1942, lot 59; bought by Sabina Girtin, née Cooper (1878–1959), £42; Tom Girtin (1913–94); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 14 July 1994, lot 103; bought by Jacqui Eli Safra, £32,200; his sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 26 January 2011, lot 649, unsold; his sale, Sotheby's, New York, 25 January 2017, lot 109, unsold; his sale, Christie’s, 6 July 2023, lot 4, £30,240

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1953a, no.47; Sheffield, 1953, no.45; Leeds, 1958, no.43; London, 1962a, no.133


Bury, 1962, pl.21

About this Work

This view of the ruined transept of Dryburgh Abbey, seen from the cloister, was made from an untraced sketch that was presumably drawn on Girtin’s visit to the north east and the Scottish Borders in 1796. Girtin visited the Borders again in 1800, but a pencil drawing showing the west wall of the refectory at Dryburgh appears to have been worked on the earlier trip (TG1118). This watercolour has sufficient in common stylistically with the small sketch-like works that the artist executed around 1796–97, such as Bothal Castle (TG1089), for us to be reasonably sure that it was not produced following the later trip. The oblique, close viewpoint adopted by the artist is certainly characteristic of the architectural views that he developed on this tour, as is the way he contrasts the bright sunlight playing on the sandstone with the deeper shade of the foreground. This area is of particular interest for the way that Girtin has dried out the darker washes of colour, perhaps using a sponge or even breadcrumbs, to create a grainy texture that produces a suitably contemplative gloom for the figure of a monk moving to the left, and a subtle reminder that we are viewing the ruined abbey from the ancient cloister. Such an effect would have required multiple washings of colour and a careful planning that belies the work’s appearance of being sketched quickly. It is a typical example, therefore, of what I have termed the colour sketch–studio work, a small-scale commodity suited to the portfolio of a collector who appreciated the more informal qualities associated with the on-the-spot study. And, it must be added, someone who might make allowances for the artist’s careless approach to perspective which sees a round niche in the east wall of the cloister seemingly float in space. No amount of foliage can disguise the fact that the structural logic of the building has collapsed in this area.

It is not surprising that Girtin chose to visit the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, for, although little of the church remained, the site of the monastic buildings on a wooded loop of the river Tweed made for a series of highly picturesque views. The owner of the ruins, the 11th Earl of Buchan (1742–1829), who was to host Girtin on his later tour, sought to enhance the site’s picturesque charms through careful landscaping, but apparently not so much that this detracted from the sense of seclusion. The mood of reverie that Girtin evokes in his subsequent view is reminiscent of another scene sketched on the northern tour, the medieval hermitage at Warkworth (TG1096), where again the sylvan setting of an ancient religious building is enough to suggest associations with contemplative detachment, though without the slightly heavy-handed inclusion of a monk seen here.

(?) 1796

Dryburgh Abbey


1796 - 1797

Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck



Warkworth Hermitage


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.