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Works Unknown Artist

Great Yarmouth: The South Gate

1800 - 1805

Primary Image: TG0293: Unknown Artist, Great Yarmouth: The South Gate, 1800–05, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 21.4 × 27 cm, 8 ⅜ × 10 ⅝ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (PD.14-2010).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Unknown Artist
  • Great Yarmouth: The South Gate
1800 - 1805
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
21.4 × 27 cm, 8 ⅜ × 10 ⅝ in
Object Type
Formerly attributed to Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
East Anglia: Norfolk and Suffolk; Gothic Architecture: Town and Domestic Fortifications

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in December 2023


J. Palser & Sons (stock no.1654); bought by A. W. Hardy, 18 September 1885; ... Palser Gallery, London, March 1931; ... The Wren Gallery, London, 1969, £1,600; bought by William Milo Keynes (1924–2009); bequeathed to the Museum, 2010

Exhibition History

Palser Gallery, 1936, no.33, 95 gns; Palser Gallery, 1937, no.37 as by Thomas Girtin


Fitzwilliam Museum Online as by Thomas Girtin (Accessed 27/12/2023)

About this Work

William Byrne (1743–1805) and James Sparrow (active 1795–1803), after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), etching and engraving, 'View of the South Gate' for <i>The Antiquities of Great-Britain</I>, vol.2, pl.5, 15 April 1797, 18.6 × 24.9 cm, 7 ⅚ × 9 ¾ in. Yale Center for British Art Library, Paul Mellon Collection.

At first sight, at least, this watercolour showing the South Gate at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk appears to be a compressed version of a view by Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) of the picturesque medieval structure (Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (1174)). An engraving titled ‘View of the South Gate’ was included in the first volume of The Antiquities of Great-Britain (see figure 1) (Hearne, 1786–1807), a publication that provided the basis for half a dozen of Girtin’s watercolours of ruined monastic sites and cathedrals, and one other medieval gateway, at Bury St Edmunds (TG0866) none of which the artist had visited by the date of their production. However, unlike the copies that Girtin produced for his early patron John Henderson (1764–1843), this work departs from the Hearne print in a number of significant respects. Some of these, such as the change of the position of the shipping to the left, might have been a consequence of converting a landscape format into an upright composition, but others, such as the different alignment of the house in the foreground and the presence of trees behind, suggest that the view was taken from a different position, a few metres to the right. The date of the print’s publication – 15 April 1797 – should in any case alert us to the likelihood that the work was not based on the engraving, as all of Girtin’s copies from Hearne were produced around 1795–96. Moreover, given that he certainly did not visit Yarmouth, it follows from this alone that a question mark at the very least needs to be added next to Girtin’s name.

This was in fact the opinion of Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), who made a disparaging note about the attribution on stylistic grounds when the watercolour was for sale at the Palser Gallery in London in 1936–37 (Girtin Archive, 26), and the work was not included in the catalogue he published with Derek Loshak (Girtin and Loshak, 1954). In contrast, and working initially from a colour illustration, my doubts about the work's attribution to Girtin were based more on its problematic status as a copy. The use of a rough textured cartridge paper similar in its surface qualities to that employed by Girtin, together with a comparable muted palette, meant that although I favoured the view that the work was by an artist with a close understanding of his later watercolours there was still an element of uncertainty. However, having finally viewed the work in person the stylistic evidence that formed the basis of the critical opinion of the artist’s descendant came more into focus. The insecure perspective of the buildings left and right of the gateway is one of many features that indicate that Girtin was not the author of the work. The visible pencil work, for instance, is clearly not in Girtin’s hand, and perhaps most decisive is the overworked detail seen across the whole of the sheet, but most particularly in the boat and cart in the foreground. It seems that a superficial resemblance between this view of the South Gate at Yarmouth with Girtin’s copies after prints after Hearne (such as TG0866) led to a misattribution of a watercolour by a later artist influenced by Girtin’s style and one who had studied the subject at first hand.

Before the southern gate in the town walls at Great Yarmouth town was demolished in 1812, it was a popular subject with artists, particularly those associated with the Norwich School such as Robert Dixon (1780–1815) and John Sell Cotman (1782–1842). The former was perhaps the author of a similar view titled Builders Working Adjacent to the South Gate of Great Yarmouth (Private Collection) as well as an etching showing the view of the gateway from within the town that was published in 1810 (British Museum, London (1902,0514.716)). Dixon is said to have been the author of a copy of a Girtin watercolour of 1800, Farmhouse and Outbuildings, Possibly in Essex (see TG1759 figure 2), and he is therefore currently the most plausible candidate for the Girtinesque work discussed here.

(?) 1795

The Gatehouse, Bury St Edmunds Abbey


(?) 1795

The Gatehouse, Bury St Edmunds Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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