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Works Thomas Girtin

Jedburgh Abbey, from Jed Water


Primary Image: TG1722: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Jedburgh Abbey, from Jed Water, 1801, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 37.6 × 64.5 cm, 14 ¾ × 25 ⅜ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (PD.5-1951).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Jedburgh Abbey, from Jed Water
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
37.6 × 64.5 cm, 14 ¾ × 25 ⅜ in

‘Girtin. 1801’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; River Scenery; The Scottish Borders

Jedburgh Abbey, from Jed Water (TG1226)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
165ii as 'Distant View of Jedburgh'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Possibly bought by Peter Bluett (1767–1843) of Holcombe Court, Devon; then by descent to Peter Frederick Bluett (1806–84); Holcombe Court bought by the Revd William Rayer (1786–1866), 1858; his collection by descent to Revd George Morganig William Thomas Jenkins (1879–1952); acquired by Gooden & Fox Ltd., 1936; Thos. Agnew & Sons; bought by the Museum, 1951

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1951, no.39, £650; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.64; Manchester, 1975, no.18; Cambridge, 1989, no.29; Cambridge, 1994, p.60 as ’Jedburgh’


Tuck, 1997, p.399

About this Work

This badly faded watercolour, showing a distant view of Jedburgh Abbey from the banks of Jed Water looking north east, was executed after a pencil sketch that Girtin made on his first trip to the Scottish Borders, in 1796 (TG1226) which includes the confusing detail of the spire of another building seemingly part of the nave.1. The artist produced views of the abbey ruins at three points during his career, beginning around 1792–93 with a group of compositions (such as TG0104) that were made after sketches by his earliest patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99). Viewing the town and the ruins from a variety of angles, Girtin then made a series of on-the-spot sketches during his visit in 1796, producing three or four studio watercolours in the aftermath of the tour (such as TG1229 and TG1231). He then returned to his drawings in the last years of his life, producing four more major works, including this view, which typically combines the abbey with a prominent river scene (the others are TG1233, TG1724 and TG1725). Some of these later works were supplied to Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. It is possible that this was the case with this work and another late Jedburgh view (TG1233), which were both once in the collection at Holcombe Court in Devon. The two late Jedburgh views, together with eight more watercolours all dating from around 1800–1801, were discovered at Holcombe in the 1930s by Paul Oppé (1878–1957), leading Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) to conclude that they were acquired by the owner of the house during Girtin’s life, Peter Bluett (1767–1863), though equally they might have been bought by a member of the family of the Revd William Rayer (1786–1866), who moved into the property in 1858 (Girtin Archive, 26). Whichever the case, it is unlikely that the first owner was a direct patron of Girtin in the traditional sense. The fact that the two Jedburgh scenes are not the same size, employ contrasting palettes and were evidently painted at different times underlines the random character of the Holcombe collection, which follows no particular pattern and contains subjects that are likewise a heterogeneous mix of antiquarian, genre and modern scenes. A comparison with the coherent group assembled by a more traditional patron such as Edward Lascelles (1764–1814), which is made up predominantly of local scenes and views that the patron in all probability saw on his own tours, makes this even clearer. Indeed, there is no evidence that either Bluett or any member of the Rayer family had any association with Jedburgh, or even that they might have been able to identify the subject of a work that, in many ways, is interchangeable with the other major site that was to provide so many subjects for Girtin in his last years – Bolton Abbey, on the river Wharfe (see TG1680). The distant view of the ruins from a bend of the river, the hills in the background and the dramatic cliff-face to the left are familiar from many of the Yorkshire subjects Girtin painted, and it was presumably this combination, allowing for the full display of the artist’s talents, that was the attraction for a customer for whom the prominent date and signature seen to the left were possibly of greater significance than the subject.

I suspect that the work’s poor, faded condition, the result of the artist’s use of a range of fugitive pigments, was linked to his working more on the open market, and that this encouraged Girtin to ignore the sound advice of his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), to ‘sacrifice brilliancy for permanency’ (Dayes, Works, p.300).2 Of the fifteen pigments Girtin is known to have used, at least four are very fugitive: a blue, indigo; two yellows, gamboge and brown pink; and a purple, brown lake (Pyne, 1823a, p.67).3 The sky was particularly vulnerable if painted with these materials since the grey of the clouds was commonly mixed from indigo and lake, and the blue of the spaces in between often employed indigo as well, though, as can be seen here, the artist also sometimes used a second more permanent blue, probably ultramarine, which has not changed significantly. At a time when there was no readily available green pigment, it too was often mixed from gamboge and indigo, with the further baleful results seen here. All watercolours fade to a certain degree under the influence of light, but, as Dayes would no doubt have told a young Girtin, this can be minimised, albeit at the expense of certain eye-catching effects, and in the end the choice was down to the artist, who had to balance aesthetic and economic considerations.

(?) 1796

Jedburgh Abbey, from Jed Water


1792 - 1793

Jedburgh Abbey, from the East


1797 - 1798

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins


1796 - 1797

The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey


(?) 1800

Jedburgh Abbey, from the Riverbank


1800 - 1801

Jedburgh Abbey, from the South East



The Village of Jedburgh


(?) 1800

Jedburgh Abbey, from the Riverbank



Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Not a part of another church, but the steeple added to Newgate in 1791 (Dennison, 2013, p.296).
  2. 2 Dayes’ thoughts on the subject are contained in Instructions for Drawing and Coloring Landscapes which was published posthumously in 1805. It is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1805 – Item 2).
  3. 3 The account of the ‘Rise and Progress of Painting in Water Colours’ written by William Henry Pyne (1769–1843) includes a wealth of detail on Girtin’s career and working practice, much of which was the result of watching the artist. It is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1823 – Item 1).

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