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Works (?) Thomas Girtin after (?) Thomas Hearne

Great Yarmouth: The South Gate

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0293: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after (?) Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), Great Yarmouth: The South Gate, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on 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

Artist's source: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), Great Yarmouth: The South Gate,, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on paper, 21.4 × 27 cm., 8 ⅜ × 10 ⅝ in. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (PD.14-2010).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) Thomas Hearne (1744-1817)
  • Great Yarmouth: The South Gate
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
21.4 × 27 cm, 8 ⅜ × 10 ⅝ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
East Anglia: Norfolk and Suffolk; Gothic Architecture: Town and Domestic Fortifications

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Museum Website


J. Palser & Sons (stock no.1654); bought by A. W. Hardy, 18 September 1885; ... Palser Gallery, London, bought 3 March 1931; ... Wren Gallery, 1969, £1,600; bought by Dr W. M. Keynes; bequeathed to the Museum, 2010

Exhibition History

Palser Gallery, 1936, no.33, 95 gns; Palser Gallery, 1937, no.37


Fitzwilliam Museum Online as by Thomas Girtin (Accessed 05/09/2022)

About this Work

The Antiquities of Great Britain

At first sight, at least, this watercolour showing the South Gate at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk appears to be a compressed version of Thomas Hearne’s (1744–1817) view of the picturesque medieval structure (sold at Cheffins, Cambridge, 24 March 2011, lot 430). An engraving titled ‘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 these, as here, did the artist visit on any of his sketching tours. 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, there is the additional possibility that Girtin was not the author of the watercolour.

This was in fact the opinion of Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), who made a disparaging note about the attribution 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). The opinion of the artist’s descendant depended primarily on the stylistic evidence, rather than on its disputed status as a copy from another source, though to my eye it is the latter that is more concerning. The use of rough textured cartridge paper similar in its surface qualities to that employed by Girtin, together with a comparable muted palette, suggests at the very least that this is the work of an artist with a close understanding of Girtin’s later watercolours. And, arguably, it is only the insecure perspective of the buildings left and right of the gateway and the overworked detail of the boat and cart in the foreground that points decisively away from Girtin as the author.

Before the southern gate in the town walls at Great Yarmouth town was demolished in 1812, it was a popular subjects with artists, including 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. 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 1), and he may therefore be a plausible candidate for the Girtinesque work discussed here.

(?) 1795

The Gatehouse, Bury St Edmunds Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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