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Works Thomas Girtin

Effingham Churchyard, Formerly Known as 'A Country Churchyard'

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1447: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Effingham Churchyard, Formerly Known as 'A Country Churchyard', 1798–99, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 23.3 × 40.9 cm, 9 ⅛ × 15 ⅞ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (735).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Effingham Churchyard, Formerly Known as 'A Country Churchyard'
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
23.3 × 40.9 cm, 9 ⅛ × 15 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Surrey View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
295 as '"A Country Churchyard"'; '1798–9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 1 July 1833, lot 116 as 'Two views of Effingham church'; bought by 'Maine', £13 13s; ...Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911) (lent to London, 1875); by a settlement to his sister, Mary Hog Barnard (née Girtin) (1828–99); her sale, Christie’s, 31 May 1886, lot 50 as 'Gray's Tomb, Stoke Pogis Churchyard'; bought by 'Palser', £31 10s; J. Palser & Sons; bought by Arthur Tite (1841–94); then by descent to Katherine Juliet Felicite Vulliamy, née Tite (1875–1965); presented to the Museum, 1912

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.28 as ’Old Church with Trees’; Cambridge, 1994, p.59 as 'A country churchyard'

About this Work

It has hitherto not been possible to identify the partial fragment of the building shown in this watercolour as it includes little distinctive architectural detail and this is precisely the sort of humble church structure that was commonly effaced by later Victorian rebuilding. However, looking again at Girtin's view of the church of St Lawrence in Effingham in Surrey (TG0345) suggested a possible lead. The prominent buttresses supporting the south transept to the right of the composition resemble the solid brick structures seen in the unidentified view and the form and position of the table tombs in the churchyard itself further encouraged me with the idea that this watercolour shows the same building seen from the south. Confirmation of the identification came in the form of a roughly contemporary view of the southern flank of the church by John Hassell (1767–1827) in the Surrey History Centre, Woking (4348/2/103/1). Architectural features such as the deep-set eaves, the off-centre single lancet and, above all, the massive brick buttress set at an angle to the western corner of the mid thirteenth-century transept, are clear in both images. Studying the same view today suggests why it was that the building in Girtin’s view remained unidentified for so long. The single lancet was replaced by two neatly symmetrical windows during a restoration/rebuilding programme in the late nineteenth century, and at this time the bulky and unpicturesque buttress was reinstated in the form of two neat stacks, and the discoloured whitewash gave way to a severe flint facing. And a final confirmation of the identity of the building came in the form of information provided by Sue Morris of the Effingham Local History Group who pointed out that the prominent tombstone in the foreground of Girtin's watercolour is still standing in the same position in the graveyard (email dated 12 April). The inscription records that it was erected to the memory of ‘John Skeet who died July 25th 1783 aged 28 years’. The newly erected stone is shown leaning at an angle, in keeping with the picturesque disorder of the ancient site, though the manner in which it is picked out in white bodycolour suggests that it is a more recent interloper.

In retrospect, the identification of this architectural fragment as the south transept of Effingham church should not have come as a complete surprise since the posthumous sale of Girtin’s patron and supporter Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) included a lot described as 'Two views of Effingham church' (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 July 1833, lot 116). Effingham is just a few kilometres west of Fetcham, where Monro rented a cottage between the years 1795 and 1805 (see TG0857 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 catalogue of Monro’s posthumous sale lists a number of other Surrey scenes by Girtin, including views of the nearby Box Hill and Norbury Park, as well as Capel Church (TG0857) (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. And now, with the discovery of a second Effingham view, as many as four of the churches that Girtin painted from sketches made in the vicinity of Fetcham have been identified (including TG0857 and TG0858), making for a coherent group of Surrey subjects, though neither the view of Box Hill nor the one of Norbury Park has yet been traced (Piggott, 1994, pp.8–10). I suspect that they may yet be discovered amongst one of the many watercolours with those titles that are currently attributed to Turner.

1797 - 1798

Effingham Church


1797 - 1798

Capel Church


1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral, from the South West


1797 - 1798

Capel Church


1796 - 1797

Great Bookham Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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