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Works Thomas Girtin after James Moore

Ely Cathedral, from the South East

(?) 1794

Primary Image: TG0202: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) after James Moore (1762–99), Ely Cathedral, from the South East, (?) 1794, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 39.1 × 47.8 cm, 15 ⅜ × 18 ⅞ in. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (WA1916.1).

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

Artist's source: James Moore (1762–99), Ely Cathedral, 4 September 1790, graphite on laid paper, 16 × 20.2 cm, 6 ¼ × 8 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.613).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after James Moore (1762-1799)
  • Ely Cathedral, from the South East
(?) 1794
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
39.1 × 47.8 cm, 15 ⅜ × 18 ⅞ in
Object Type
Exhibition Watercolour; Studio Watercolour; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Cambridgeshire; Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
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 Manchester, 1857; London, 1875); bequeathed to Edward Mansel Miller (1829–1912); bequeathed to Helen Louisa Miller (1842–1915); bought by the Museum, 1916, £45

Exhibition History

Royal Academy, London, 1794, no.346 as ’View of Ely Minster’; Manchester, 1857, no.76; London, 1875, no.114; London, 1951, no.514; Manchester, 1975, no.5; Paris, 1979, no.22, exhibition untraced; London, 1984d, no.526; London, 2002, no.1; London, 2007, no.94


Roget, 1891, vol.1, p.88; Bell, 1915–17, p.71, p.74; Stokes, 1922, p.21, p.34; Davies, 1924, p.1, p.12; Binyon, 1933, p.97; Collins Baker, 1933, p.154; Mayne, 1949, pp.30–31, p.49, p.99; Williams, 1952, p.101; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.54; Bury, 1958, p.22, p.24; Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, p.3; White, 1977, p.65; Ushenko, 1979, pp.224–26; Brown, 1982, pp.326–27, no.714; Herrmann, 2000, pp.36–37; Celeste, 2020, p.133

About this Work

St Anselm's Chapel, with Part of Thomas-a-Becket's Crown, Canterbury Cathedral

The inclusion at the Royal Academy’s exhibition of 1794 of ‘View of Ely Minster’ marked an important watershed in Girtin’s development as an artist and his progress within his chosen profession (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1794, no.346). The watercolour was commissioned by Girtin’s first significant patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99). Girtin had hitherto worked on a small scale for Moore, producing numerous watercolour versions of his patron’s amateurish sketches, but here he was able to work on a larger format and with a degree of finish that stood a chance of making an impact in the overcrowded Antique Academy used for the display of watercolours at this date. Girtin had still not been able to travel outside of London by this date, however, and he based his watercolour on a small pencil sketch made by Moore on a trip to East Anglia dated 4 September 1790 (see the source image above). Thus, in contrast to his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), whose impressive 1794 exhibit St Anselm’s Chapel (see figure 1) was worked up from a sketch he made in Canterbury the year before, Girtin had no alternative but to follow his patron’s drawing with its uncertain perspective. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was unable to forge a convincing relationship between the massive form of the south transept (seen from close to) and the main body of the church beyond. Other aspects were more successful, however, including a fine fluid skyscape, a lively use of light to pick out attractive patterns in the stone and a surprisingly animated figure group, presumably including Moore himself. The figures were good enough to persuade earlier writers to suggest that they must have been added by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.54).

Ely Cathedral

The latter suggestion is implausible as Girtin had clearly ended his apprenticeship to Dayes by this date, but that probably did not stop comparisons with the artist, to whose style Girtin still closely adhered. Dayes’ much larger and more distant view of Ely (see figure 2), which was painted in 1792, during Girtin’s time in his master’s studio, must have made plain the origin of many of his pupil’s characteristics, including the use of a restricted palette of blues, greens and greys as well as stylistic mannerisms such as the distinctive treatment of the foliage and the complex play of broken light on the masonry. But a comparison with Dayes’ major watercolour also demonstrates how far Girtin still had to go in moving away from the primacy of the antiquarian subject to successfully depicting a building within a convincing landscape setting, where a weather effect can create dramatic interest. It is not surprising, therefore, that Girtin’s exhibit did not attract critical attention at the Academy and that when Moore came to commission another set of cathedral views later in the year, he made sure that Girtin was able to sketch the subjects on the spot for the first time (TG1002 and TG1017), taking the young artist with him on his summer tour of the Midlands for that purpose.

The paper historian Peter Bower has noted that the support used by Girtin is a white wove drawing paper, probably produced by James Whatman the Younger (1741–98), whilst the mount is an off-white wove drawing paper, possibly made by Robert Edmeads (unknown dates) and Thomas Pine (unknown dates) at Great Ivy Mill near Maidstone (Smith, 2002b, p.19; Bower, Report).


The West Front of Lichfield Cathedral



The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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