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Works Thomas Girtin

Jedburgh Abbey, from the Riverbank

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1233: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Jedburgh Abbey, from the Riverbank, (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 41.5 × 54.5 cm, 16 ⅜ × 21 ½ in. The Higgins, Bedford (P.72).

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Jedburgh Abbey, from the Riverbank
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
41.5 × 54.5 cm, 16 ⅜ × 21 ½ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

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

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
286 as 'Jedburgh Abbey'; '1798–9'
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; Sir George Davies; Thos. Agnew & Sons; bought from them, 1952, £700

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1952, no.53; Bedford, 1952, no.46; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.55; London, 1962b, no.59; Reading, 1965, no.19; Kendal, 1970, no.48; Manchester, 1975, no.47; Petworth, 2016, no.11


Bury, 1961, p.35, p.37; Joll, 2002, p.122

About this Work

This fine watercolour, showing Jedburgh Abbey in the Scottish Borders, features a closer view of the southern flank of the partially ruined church from the banks of Jed Water than a companion work that was once in the same West Country collection (TG1722). The artist produced views of the celebrated abbey at three points during his career, beginning around 1792–93 with a group of compositions that were made after sketches by his earliest patron, the amateur and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99) (such as TG0104). Viewing the town and the ruins from a variety of angles, Girtin subsequently made a series of on-the-spot drawings during his stay in the town in 1796, producing three or four studio watercolours in the aftermath of the tour (such as TG1229 and TG1231). He returned to his sketches in the last years of his life, producing four more major works (the others are TG1722, TG1724 and TG1725), including this view, which typically combines the abbey with a prominent river scene, though the source has not been traced in this case.

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), mostly in the same poor condition as this work’s more distant companion. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), not unreasonably, concluded that they were acquired by the owner of the house during Girtin’s life, Peter Bluett (1767–1863), though I now suspect that in all probability they were bought by a member of the family of the Revd William Rayer (1786–1866), who moved into Holcombe 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). It is therefore unlikely that the first owner of the works had any input into the choice of subject or its treatment; indeed, it is possible that they had no contact with Girtin, probably buying the work through Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer, and this may indeed have occurred after the artist’s death. We can be reasonably sure that Reynolds was the intermediary because of the work’s close similarity with another view of Jedburgh that was sold in December 1801 by Reynolds for £10 to a different early collector of Girtin’s work, Elizabeth Weddell (1749–1831)  (Reynolds, Letter, 1803).1 The two works are the same size, are in equally good condition (as the artist carefully chose a range of stable pigments) and include uncharacteristically detailed friezes of figures in the foreground, marking them out as upmarket versions of the standard commodity that Girtin supplied to Reynolds.

'View of Jedburgh Abbey'

If it is not entirely clear whether the use of less fugitive pigments in these two Jedburgh subjects is related to their superior status as commodities, then the increased attention that Girtin paid to the figures is surely an unequivocal sign of their importance. Girtin’s figures, though often drawn with an exuberant economy of means, rarely suggest that they have been carefully observed on the spot, and their actions tend to be very generalised. In this case, although the washerwomen shown by Girtin owe something to the work of Marco Ricci (1676–1730) (see TG1723 figure 2), whose prints the watercolourist copied at this date, a similar view of the abbey, published after the work of Charles Catton (1728–98) in 1793 (see figure 1), suggests that the figures were indeed observed at work on the banks of Jed Water. Then there are the four workmen to the left, two of whom carry away what appears to be a rock, perhaps a millstone. If the author of the work was Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), one might have suspected a reference to the activities of the pioneering geologist James Hutton (1726–97), whose work at Jedburgh helped to inform his theories on rock formation; however, though the men shown here are presumably engaged in a rather more prosaic activity, there is still a strong sense that this is specific to the locality. And finally, it should also be noted that Girtin was careful to record the fact that although the abbey ruins made for a fine picturesque composition, the west end of the church was still in use as the parish church and was fitted up for the purpose. Moreover, although Girtin omitted the south wall of the cloister which would otherwise have interupted the view of the lower arcade of the church, in other respects he faithfully recorded the way that the monastic ruins had been adapted for domestic use so that, as the print after Charles Catton also shows, the scene depicted here is more orderd than it now appears following various archaeological interventions. Even in such late works, therefore, the artist could choose to retain a strong sense of place.


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



Jedburgh Abbey, from Jed Water


1800 - 1801

Jedburgh Abbey, from the South East



The Village of Jedburgh



Bolton Abbey, from the River Wharfe


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The letter detailing the sales of Girtin’s works by Reynolds is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1803 – Item 3).

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