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Works Thomas Girtin

Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End


Primary Image: TG1697: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End, 1801, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 62.9 × 50.8 cm, 24 ¾ × 20 in. Tate (T00993).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
62.9 × 50.8 cm, 24 ¾ × 20 in

‘Girtin 1801’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Yorkshire View

Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End (TG1612)
Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End (TG1698)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
430iii as 'Guisborough Priory, Yorkshire'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2014


Stephen Francis Rimbault (1773–1837) (lent to London, 1823, for sale); John Temple Leader (1810–1903); his sale, Christie’s, 18 March 1843, lot 47 as 'Gisburne Abbey; a very grand drawing'; bought by 'Tiffin', £10 10s; Samuel Addington (1806–86) (lent to London, 1877); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 22 May 1886, lot 26 as 'Gisburgh Abbey, Yorkshire'; bought by 'Palser', £31; J. Palser & Sons (stock no.2807); bought by W. Walters, 22 May 1886; Robert Walters; the posthumous sale of his widow, Hampton & Sons, 19 June 1913, lot 757; bought by 'Harper', 82 gns; Christie's, 27 April 1917, lot 68; unsold at £44 2s; bought privately by Herbert Powell (1863–1950), 12 September 1917; entrusted to the National Art-Collections Fund (The Art Fund), 1929; presented to the Tate Gallery, 1967

Exhibition History

London, 1823, no.12; London, 1877, no.308; Leeds, 1937, no.24; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.1; National Art-Collections Fund Tour, 1947-, no.64; Manchester, 1975, no.81; London, 2014, no.11


Hughes, 1931, no.64; Hardie, 1938–39, pp.93–94; Mayne, 1949, pp.55–56, p.102

About this Work

This imposing watercolour, showing the late thirteenth-century east end of the priory church of Guisborough in North Yorkshire, was realised from a pencil drawing in the Whitworth Book of Drawings (TG1612). This was produced whilst Girtin was staying with Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831), at Mulgrave Castle, probably in the summer of 1800 after his visit to Edward Lascelles (1764–1814) at Harewood House, and it was Lascelles who commissioned a slightly larger version of the composition, which is dated 1801 (TG1698). This watercolour, although on a reduced scale, actually shows an extended view of the ruins and is closer to the original sketch, with more of the trees included to the right, and it is likely to date from later. Thus, although there is no clear stylistic evidence to confirm this, Girtin would not have produced another version ahead of his remunerative and prestigious commission from Lascelles. In some ways, it is actually quite surprising that Girtin found a second buyer for a subject type that he had not treated recently, since although the ruined east end is an impressive fragment, the site was not a regular destination for picturesque tourists or artists and, as David Hill has argued, it had a particular association for the Lascelles family (Hill, 1999, p.63). Indeed, Girtin’s composition looks back to his experience of working for the antiquarian market in the early part of his career, and in particular to the view of the east end of Walsingham Priory that he made for Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) from an outline drawing by another early patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99) (TG0244). Working now on a large scale, Girtin was able to enhance the ruin’s monumental character, and the introduction of an evening effect, albeit spoilt by the work’s faded condition, extends the associations evoked by the scene, though the composition itself is little changed from his earlier work. The effect of a scene at dusk is particularly badly served by the work’s faded condition, so that although, as with the other version of the composition painted for Lascelles, there are no melancholic associations despite the fact that the view is taken from the graveyard of the adjacent church of St Nicholas, the evening light no longer illuminates the red sandstone in the same attractive way, and the vegetation has sunk to a lifeless monochrome.

Guisborough Priory

Girtin’s contemporary John Constable (1776–1837) made a pencil copy of the lower part of the composition (see figure 1), and this has been dated to the early part of his career (Reynolds, 1996, vol.1, p.67). This would appear to have been produced from this smaller watercolour as it contains much more of the composition to the right, including the distinctive form of the tree trunk, though it is also possible that Constable worked from Girtin’s pencil sketch. If it was the latter, it is not clear how the artist got access to Girtin’s drawing, though the same might also be said about the watercolour. However, there is just a possibility that Constable actually owned the work, as a ‘Landscape with a ruined Abbey’ by Girtin was included in his posthumous sale, and he is known to have possessed two or more other watercolours by the artist, in addition to one at least of the Paris prints (Exhibitions: Foster’s, 12 May 1838, lot 525; Christie’s, 17 June 1892, lots 10 and 269). Having said that, it is still more likely that Constable came across Girtin’s work in the collection of one of Girtin’s patrons, and Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753–1827) is the most probable candidate, having supported both artists.

(?) 1800

Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End



Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End


1795 - 1796

The Ruined East End of Walsingham Priory Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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