For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End


Primary Image: TG1698: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End, 1801, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 66 × 48.3 cm, 26 × 19 in. National Galleries of Scotland (D NG 1385).

Photo courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper, with a narrow strip of wove paper added at the bottom
66 × 48.3 cm, 26 × 19 in (the e×tra strip measures c.2 cm high)

‘Girtin 1801’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Yorkshire View

Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End (TG1612)
Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End (TG1697)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
430ii as 'Guisborough Priory, Yorkshire'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Edward Lascelles (1764–1814); then by descent to Henry Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824–92); his sale, Christie’s, 1 May 1858, lot 50 as 'Guisborough Priory - upright. A capital drawing'; bought by 'Colnaghi', 22 gns; John Dillon (d.1869); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 17 April 1869, lot 29; bought by 'White', 49 gns; Col. R. Ovie; bought from him by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.9611), 9 April 1920; bought from them by the Gallery, 16 April 1920, £350

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1920, no.23 as ’Gisburne’; Harewood, 1999, no.39; London, 2002, no.173


Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.78; Hawcroft, 1975, p.53; Baker, 2011, pp.128–29

About this Work

This fine 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 either travelling to or staying with the 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. It was Lascelles himself who commissioned this watercolour, one of two versions of a composition that, with its date of 1801, must have been amongst the last of at least fifteen works by Girtin that he came to own. The other version, also dated 1801 (TG1697), is slightly smaller. No doubt it was also the patron who stipulated a return to a subject type that Girtin had not treated recently, since, although the ruined east end is an impressive fragment, the site itself was not a regular destination for picturesque tourists or artists. As David Hill has argued, the Lascelles family had long been associated with North Yorkshire and the patron’s ‘ancestors were early benefactors of the priory’; Girtin, it seems, responded with a composition that looked back to his experience of working for the antiquarian market in the early part of his career (Hill, 1999, p.63). The view of the east end of Walsingham Priory (TG0244) that Girtin made for Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) from an outline drawing by another early patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), surely provides the model for Girtin’s sketch and the watercolours that were derived from it. It is not just that the subject and the composition type hark back to an earlier period, however. Faced with the ruined masonry of a Gothic building, Girtin employed the same visual language of dashes, dots and scallop shapes, added with the tip of the brush, that is seen in Rievaulx Abbey, from around 1798 (TG1056). Like that work, the composition may enhance the ruin’s monumental character, but there are no melancholic associations, despite the fact that the view is taken from the graveyard of the adjacent church of St Nicholas. The gentle evening effect lights up the stonework rather than casting the ruins into gloom, and the figures too have a surprisingly light-hearted feel. I am not sure that it is necessary to agree with Hill’s suggestion that the man appears to ‘be shooting with a pistol at a pear balanced on the girl’s head’, in order to accept the broader point: that any intimations of mortality in the view are minimal (Hill, 1999, p.62). 

Westminster Abbey, Showing Bishop Islip's Chapel

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid drawing paper, made by an unknown Dutch manufacturer, whilst the additional strip added at the bottom is a wove paper, probably produced by Robert Edmeads (unknown dates) and Thomas Pine (unknown dates) at Great Ivy Mill near Maidstone (Smith, 2002b, p.224; Bower, Report). Girtin employed the same paper for two other commissions for Lascelles, A View on the River Wharfe (TG1674) and A Mountain View, near Beddgelert (TG1322), and it was presumably for the patron that Girtin added the shallow strip below, which includes the date and his signature. It is not clear why the artist made such a marginal change, but the extra couple of centimetres may have been added to fit the watercolour into a frame that had already been prepared to fill a space as part of a carefully planned decorative ensemble on the walls of the Lascelles London townhouse. An inventory from 1814 records that this work was hung in the Small Drawing Room with four other watercolours by Girtin, together with two by his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), including the fine interior view of Westminster Abbey from 1796 (see figure 1) (Hill, 1995, p.58). With its slightly larger dimensions, it is unlikely that Girtin’s watercolour was commissioned specifically as a pair of the Turner; however, as it was the only other vertical composition in the room, comparisons would inevitably have been made between the two works.

(?) 1800

Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End



Guisborough Priory: The Ruined East End


1795 - 1796

The Ruined East End of Walsingham Priory Church


(?) 1798

Rievaulx Abbey


1800 - 1801

A View on the River Wharfe


1798 - 1799

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.