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Works Thomas Girtin

Great Bookham Church

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0858: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), Great Bookham Church, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 24.1 × 33.9 cm, 9 ½ × 13 ⅜ in. Graves Gallery, Sheffield.

Photo courtesy of Museums Sheffield

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Great Bookham Church
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
24.1 × 33.9 cm, 9 ½ × 13 ⅜ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Surrey View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
296 as 'A Country Church'; '1798-9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Edward Cohen (1817–86); then by bequest to his niece, Annie Sophia Poulter (c.1846–1924); then by descent to Edward Alexander Poulter (1883–1973); J. Palser & Sons; bought by Winifred M. Church, 26 July 1927; Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1939 (stock no.2671); John George Graves (1866–1945); bequeathed to the Gallery, 1946

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1939, no.136 as ’Stoke Poges Church’


Milner, 1990, pp.8–9

About this Work

This view of the church of St Nicholas in Great Bookham, seen from the north east, is one of two watercolours painted by Girtin that show the picturesque Surrey church covered in ivy (the other being TG0859). Although neither work comes with any evidence about its early provenance, it is likely that at least one of them was commissioned by Girtin’s early patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Great Bookham is a kilometre or so to the west of Fetcham, where Monro rented a cottage between the years 1795 and 1805 (see TG0857 figure 2), and it appears that Girtin joined his patron there and that he sketched 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 in 1833 lists a number of Surrey scenes by Girtin, including views of the nearby Box Hill and Norbury Park, as well as another local church, at Effingham (TG0345) (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. At least four of the church views that Girtin painted from sketches made in the vicinity of Fetcham have been identified (including TG0345 and TG0857), though neither the view of Box Hill nor the one of Norbury Park has yet been traced (Piggott, 1994, pp.8–10). These, I suspect, may yet be discovered amongst the many watercolours with those titles that are currently attributed to Turner. Sadly, this view of Great Bookham Church is badly faded, with the sky having disappeared totally, but this has not undermined its significance as a record of the picturesque appearance of the north aisle, prior to the substantial changes to its structure that took place in the nineteenth century. These alterations clearly included the removal of the luxuriant growth of ivy that caught the attention of artists such as John Varley (1778–1842) and Henry Edridge (1768–1821), who also depicted the building at the behest of Monro (see TG0859 figure 1).

Great Bookham Church

Also amongst those who portrayed the church for Monro was Turner, whose watercolour showing the same view of the building from the south east has similar dimensions to Girtin’s (see figure 1). The works that Girtin and Turner produced for Monro were typically copied from other artists, and the similarity between the two watercolours here may initially suggest that they too were taken from a common source. In fact, Girtin’s view is from marginally closer to and a little to the east, so that the building in the background of Turner’s watercolour is obscured and the spire here is more prominent. I suspect that both watercolours were made from sketches taken on the spot, but the possibility that the two artists actually worked on their drawings side by side is less likely, though not out of the question. Stylistically, Turner’s watercolour appears to date from rather earlier than Girtin’s, which might be as late as 1797, though it is possible that both artists accompanied Monro to Surrey nearer the beginning of their working relationship and that Girtin delayed working up his drawing.

1795 - 1796

Great Bookham Church, from the East


1797 - 1798

Effingham Church


1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral, from the South West


1797 - 1798

Effingham Church


1797 - 1798

Capel Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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