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Works Thomas Girtin after Thomas Hearne

Kelso Abbey, from the North West

(?) 1795

Primary Image: TG0270: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), Kelso Abbey, from the North West, (?) 1795, graphite on wove paper, 21 × 15.1 cm, 8 ¼ × 5 ⅞ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1929.49).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: Samuel Middiman (1751–1831) and William Byrne (1743–1805), after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), etching and engraving, 'The Monastery at Kelso' for The Antiquities of Great-Britain, vol.1, pl.25, 1 September 1780, 25.9 × 20.3 cm, 10 ¼ × 8 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Library.

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Thomas Hearne (1744-1817)
  • Kelso Abbey, from the North West
(?) 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
21 × 15.1 cm, 8 ¼ × 5 ⅞ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; The Scottish Borders

Kelso Abbey, from the North West (TG0270a)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
170 as 'Kelso Abbey'; 'Until recently attributed to G. I. Parkyns'; '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2016


Charles Stokes (1785–1853); then by descent to Thomas Hughes; then by descent to his neice, Alice Ellen Hughes; her sale, Sotheby’s, 28 November 1922, lot 141 as 'Kelso Abbey, Ruins of the Transept' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £13 for Thomas Girtin (1874-1960); presented by him to the Museum, 1929


Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1929, p.20 as by George Isham Parkyns, after Thomas Hearne; Bell, 1938–39, p.99 as by Edward Dayes, after Thomas Hearne; Brown, 1982, p.338, no.737 as by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

Kelso Abbey

This pencil drawing by Girtin of the partially ruined abbey church at Kelso, seen from the north west, was copied from an engraving (see the source image above) that in turn was made after a watercolour by Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), and it therefore predates by at least a year the artist’s first visit to the Scottish Borders. Overlaying images of the engraving and the pencil drawing confirms that, although Girtin subtly altered the composition by opening out the perspective of the north west transept so that more of facade can be seen, in all other respects the copy follows the print exactly, albeit that the figures of the gravediggers are omitted. The same exercise conducted with another similar view of the remains of the abbey (see figure 1) by Girtin’s most significant early patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), who provided material for numerous views of Scottish churches, illustrates the qualitative differences between the sketches of amateurs and professionals. Moore’s sketch – which, initially at least, appears to be the source for Girtin’s drawing – thus gets the proportions of the building spectacularly wrong and confuses details such as the oculus window on the transept facade, rendering the oval as a circle. Hearne’s image, in contrast, provided Girtin with a composition that balanced the needs of the antiquarian market, which required accurate representations of the nation’s ancient remains, with the desires of those customers whose interest tended more towards landscape watercolours and for whom a close and low viewpoint offered greater drama. Both sectors of the market might have been expected to approve of the only significant differences between Girtin’s drawing and its source – the absence of the gravediggers and the removal of the bell rope draped across the facade – both of which were signs that the shell of the transept currently housed the village church. The makeshift roof shown in the print is carefully fudged by Girtin so that there is nothing to suggest that we are not looking at a romantic ruin rather than a makeshift accommodation of the local parish church.

Girtin made a series of copies after Hearne’s composition around 1795–96, both from prints after his drawings and from the watercolours themselves. Many of them – including another Scottish subject, Melrose Abbey: The View to the South Transept (TG0868) – were produced for another of his early patrons, the amateur John Henderson (1764–1843), though there is no evidence that this view of Kelso was ever in Henderson’s possession. Indeed, the appearance on the art market in 2019 of a small watercolour based on this drawing (TG0270a) suggests that the outline was made for Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) and that, like another pencil copy of a Hearne composition engraved for Antiquities of Great-Britain (Hearne, 1786–1807), Glasgow High Street, Looking towards the Cathedral (TG0296), it ultimately came from Monro’s collection. The two outlines are roughly the same size, and, like the drawing considered here, Glasgow High Street was used as the basis for one of the small sketch-like watercolours that Monro commissioned in bulk from Girtin and that were sold at the patron’s posthumous sale as the work of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851).

Kelso Abbey, from the East

Notes in the Girtin Archive suggest that Girtin may have been responsible for another view of Kelso Abbey, this time seen from the east, and that it repeated the composition of a watercolour signed and dated by his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804) (see figure 2) (Girtin Archive, 12/4). Both watercolours would therefore have been made after a sketch by Moore (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.703)). However, the watercolour does not seem to have been photographed and it has thus not been possible to confirm the attribution to Girtin.

(?) 1795

Melrose Abbey: The View to the South Transept


1795 - 1796

Kelso Abbey, from the North West


1794 - 1795

Glasgow High Street, Looking towards the Cathedral


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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