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Works Thomas Girtin after James Moore

Dunnottar Castle

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG0124: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after James Moore (1762–99), Dunnottar Castle, 1792–93, graphite and watercolour on paper, on an original washline mount, 16.5 × 21.5 cm, 6 ½ × 8 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: James Moore (1762–99), Dunnottar Castle, 5 September 1792, graphite on wove paper, 18.1 × 22.7 cm, 7 ⅛ × 8 ¹⁵⁄₁₆ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.729).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after James Moore (1762-1799)
  • Dunnottar Castle
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper, on an original washline mount
16.5 × 21.5 cm, 6 ½ × 8 ½ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin; 'Dunnotter Castle, Kincardine' on the original washline mount, by James Moore

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Scottish View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in July 2023


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; bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 1912, £30; given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 14 July 1994, lot 129, unsold; Jacqui Eli Safra; his sale, Christie’s, 6 July 2023, lot 4, £27,720

Exhibition History

Cambridge, 1920, no.7


Grundy, 1921a, p.135

About this Work

This watercolour by Girtin showing Dunnottar Castle, perched high on a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland, was made after a drawing by the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99) (see the source image above), and Girtin himself never visited the site. Girtin’s earliest patron undertook an extensive tour of the country in the late summer of 1792, and his sketch of the castle from an inlet below the fourteenth-century tower house is dated 5 September. Girtin is documented as having worked for Moore between October 1792 and February 1793 for a fee of six shillings a day, producing watercolours generally on paper measuring roughly 6 ½ × 8 ½ in (16.5 × 21.5 cm), as here, each with its own distinctive washline mount (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 In this case the colour from the drawing has seeped onto the mount, a good indication that it was conceived as an integral part of the watercolour. In all Girtin painted seventy or so small watercolours after Moore’s sketches, including about thirty compositions derived from drawings made on the trip to Scotland. Moore employed other artists to work up his sketches for reproduction, including Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), but it seems that the seventeen-year-old artist, who may still have been an apprentice at this date, was tasked with simply producing the best watercolours he could from the little more than functional records produced by the antiquarian. Moore’s collection of watercolours by Girtin, which eventually numbered over a hundred, remained in the ownership of his descendants until it was broken up after 1912, when this work was acquired by a great-grandson of the artist, Thomas Girtin (1874–1960).

Moore’s primary interest as an antiquarian was in the architecture of the ancient buildings he sketched on his travels around Britain, but in this case it was the location of the castle that caught his attention. Moore lacked the basic artistic skills necessary to evoke Dunnottar’s spectacular location, however, and Girtin had to work harder than was generally the case to develop his patron’s drawing. In contrast to the other view of Dunnottar, where the artist added a raging sea and a turbulent, stormy sky to the castle ruins (TG0150), the rather formulaic skyscape here is little more than decorative in effect, lacking a convincing sense of recession. Instead, the artist cut Moore’s composition to the right and, by lowering the level of the sky so that the castle ruins seem to be squeezed into the composition, Girtin produces a significantly more dramatic setting than suggested in Moore’s sketch, where the fifty-metre-high (164 ft) cliff feels much less. The addition of the figures and the boats on the inlet to the right, barely hinted by Moore, also firmly establishes the fortresses’ impregnable maritime setting.

graphite and watercolour on paper, 21.8 × 31.5 cm, 8 ⁹⁄₁₆ × 12 ⅜ in. Private Collection.

Another, larger version of Moore’s composition was ‘attributed to Thomas Girtin’ when it appeared on the art market in 2012 (see figure 1) (Exhibitions: Bonhams, 25 January 2012, lot 3). The rather bland watercolour, which has also been attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), is by neither artist, however. The flat sea and the benign sky lack any of the interest that Girtin was able to impart to Moore’s equally prosaic view.

1792 - 1793

Dunnottar Castle in a Thunderstorm


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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