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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

Great Bookham Church, from the East

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0859: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Great Bookham Church, from the East, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 19 × 31 cm, 7 ½ × 12 ⅛ in. Private Collection, Norfolk (I-E-22).

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Great Bookham Church, from the East
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
19 × 31 cm, 7 ½ × 12 ⅛ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; Surrey View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and April 2022


William Esdaile (1758–1837), by 1835; his posthumous sale, Christie's, 25 June 1840, lot 1398, as 'A village church, water colours', 19s; ... J. Palser & Sons (stock no.16378); bought by Leggatt Brothers, London; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, 27 February 1912 (stock no.7653); bought by Sir Hickman Bacon (1855–1945), 1 October 1912, £120; then by descent

Exhibition History

Arts Council, 1946, no.73


Described in Tax-Exempt Heritage Assets list as 'Great Bootham Church, near Leatherhead' by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This view of the church of St Nicholas in Great Bookham, seen from the east, is one of two watercolours that show the picturesque Surrey church covered in ivy (the other being TG0858, taken from the north east). Although neither work comes with any evidence about its early provenance, it is likely that at least one 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. This view shows the fourteenth-century chancel of St Nicholas’ Church with the picturesque weatherboarded west tower clad in ivy. From this angle, more of the churchyard is visible than in the view from the north east, including a series of tombs that led early writers to mistakenly identify the church as Stoke Poges, the site of Thomas Gray’s (1716–71) Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751).

Great Bookham Church

Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak did not include this watercolour in their catalogue of Girtin’s watercolour, and some doubts linger about the attribution. A number of artists associated with Monro depicted the church, including John Varley (1778–1842) and Henry Edridge (1768–1821) (see figure 1), as well as Turner (see TG0858 figure 1), whose view from the north east is very close to Girtin’s other watercolour, and it is conceivable that this work was produced by another member of the patron’s circle. Linnell himself recorded that he and William Henry Hunt (1790–1864) were ‘set to make copies’ of the sketches that Girtin and Turner executed on their trips with Monro, and he thought ‘the doctor used to sell their copies for originals’ (Story, 1892, vol.1, p.41). However, although the pencil work in this watercolour is uncharacteristically fussy and the uncertain command of perspective means that the structure of the building is unconvincing, I am still on balance minded to believe that the watercolour is by Girtin, though it may be earlier in date than the view from the north east, and perhaps executed from another artist’s sketch. This might account for the uncertain perspective and explain why he went on to produce a second, and altogether more mature, watercolour of the same subject, presumably based, this time, on his own on-the-spot sketch.

1796 - 1797

Great Bookham Church


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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