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Works Thomas Girtin

Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept Looking North

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1120: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept Looking North, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on paper, 14.6 × 22.9 cm, 5 ¾ × 9 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive, PA-F03343-0085 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept Looking North
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
14.6 × 22.9 cm, 5 ¾ × 9 in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)

Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; The Scottish Borders

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Witt Library Photograph


Philip Cunliffe-Lister, 1st Earl of Swinton (1884–1972) and Mary Constance, Countess of Swinton (d.1974); then by descent

About this Work

This view of the ruined south transept of Dryburgh Abbey, looking north across its wooded surrounds, 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 studio 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. Indeed, as far as I can tell from a black and white image, the work seems to date from the same time as a second, closer view of the south transept, which, though it adopts an upright format, is roughly the same size and likewise appears to have been produced in the studio in emulation of the less formal aspects of the on-the-spot sketch (TG1121). This view, in concentrating more on the distant view and the broader context of the ruins as part of the 11th Earl of Buchan’s (1742–1829) carefully landscaped estate, appears more conventionally picturesque, however, and it consequently lacks the mood of reverie that permeates the close-up of the ruins.

A careful inspection reveals another feature that is common to many of the works that resulted from the 1796 tour: the lower part of Girtin’s signature has been lost. This does not mean that the drawing has been cut down; rather, it indicates that it was initially surrounded by the artist’s original border, onto which the inscription had partly strayed, so that when the mount was removed, part of Girtin’s signature disappeared too.

Dryburgh Abbey: The Ruined South Transept

Another slightly larger version of the composition is part of the collection of Dunedin Public Art Gallery in New Zealand (see figure 1). The work was presented by Archdeacon Francis Smythe (1873–1966), an enthusiastic collector of English watercolours who did not always display the soundest judgement. This was certainly the view of Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), and the family archive includes a particularly harsh assessment of the ‘Girtins’ Smythe owned, which the artist’s descendant had an opportunity to view before the collection was broken up (Girtin Archive, 27). This view of Dryburgh Abbey was not therefore included in Thomas Girtin and David Loshak’s catalogue of Girtin’s watercolours (Girtin and Loshak, 1954), and, though as far as I can tell from the colour image shown here it is not the weakest of the Smythe works, it appears to be a less panoramic copy of the work catalogued here.

(?) 1796

Dryburgh Abbey


1796 - 1797

Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck


1797 - 1799

Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept from the Cloister


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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