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Works Thomas Girtin after James Moore

Dunnottar Castle in a Thunderstorm

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG0150: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after James Moore (1762–99), Dunnottar Castle in a Thunderstorm, 1792–93, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 16.5 × 22.5 cm, 6 ½ × 8 ⅞ in. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (WA1934.118).

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

Artist's source: James Moore (1762–99), Dunnottar Castle, 5 September 1792, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 18.1 × 22.9 cm, 7 ⅛ × 9 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.731).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after James Moore (1762-1799)
  • Dunnottar Castle in a Thunderstorm
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
16.5 × 22.5 cm, 6 ½ × 8 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Scottish View; Weather Effects

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
72 as 'Dunstanborough Castle, Northumberland'; and as by Thomas Girtin 'possibly after George Robertson'; 'Late 1794'
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) (lent to London, 1875); bequeathed to Edward Mansel Miller (1829–1912); bequeathed to Helen Louisa Miller (1842–1915); bought by Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931), 1912, £15; his widow, Isabella Barnard; bequeathed to the Museum, 1934

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1857, no.71 as ’Storm, Lightning, &c, Sea Coast’; London, 1875, no.66* as ’Effect of Storm’; Manchester, 1975, no.6 as ’Dunstanborough Castle’; Hamburg, 1976, no.311; Newcastle, 1982, no.73; London, 1983b, no.42; Harewood, 1999, no.3; London, 2002, no.36 as ’Dunnottar Castle, Scotland, in a Thunderstorm’; Oxford, 2015, no.28


Mayne, 1949, p.99; Lemaître, 1955, p.181; Bury, 1958, p.24; Brown, 1982, p.328, no.717 as 'Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland, in a Thunderstorm’; Thornes, 1999, p.179; Thornes, 2000, p.367; Bryant, 2005, p.48

About this Work

Girtin’s second watercolour of Dunnottar Castle, shown 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 the young artist never actually visited the site himself. Girtin’s earliest patron undertook an extensive tour of the country in the late summer of 1792 and his sketch of the castle looking west to the fourteenth-century tower house is one of three he made on 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 measuring roughly 6 ½ × 8 ½ in (16.5 × 21.5 cm), as here (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 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 family until it was broken up after 1912, when this work was acquired by a descendant of the artist.

Moore’s drawing, which almost uniquely for the amateur is coloured, gives no hint of the spectacular transformation that Girtin was to undertake; so radical indeed was the change he effected that the watercolour was wrongly identified as showing Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland for much of the twentieth century. As with the other view of Dunnottar (TG0124), Girtin cut Moore’s composition at the top so that the considerably enhanced cliffs left and right loom over the fragile remnants of the castle. But, in contrast to the benign light that illuminates the tower in the companion view, here a bolt of lightning and all that nature at its most violent can deliver threatens the structure with destruction, and in the foreground Moore’s image of a placid inlet is translated into a turbulent mass that has few parallels even in Girtin’s later works. It is highly unlikely that Girtin had even seen the sea when he painted this watercolour around 1792–93, and it therefore represents an extraordinary feat of imagination, so much so that the meteorologist John Thornes has described the depiction of lightning as ‘as good as any up to that time’ (Thornes, 1999, p.179).

The paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used as a white wove writing paper, probably manufactured by James Whatman the Younger (1741–98) (Smith, 2002b, p.58; Bower, Report). It is likely that this was supplied by Girtin’s patron and that it was used for all of the works he commissioned.

1792 - 1793

Dunnottar Castle


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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