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Works Thomas Girtin

Kirkstall Abbey, from the Canal, Evening


Primary Image: TG1637: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Kirkstall Abbey, from the Canal, Evening, 1802, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 31.5 × 52 cm, 12 ⅜ × 20 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Private Collection (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Kirkstall Abbey, from the Canal, Evening
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
31.5 × 52 cm, 12 ⅜ × 20 ½ in

‘T Girtin 1802’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Docks and Canals; Monastic Ruins; Yorkshire View

Kirkstall Abbey, with a Canal Barge (TG1632)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
448ii as 'Kirkstall Abbey'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74) (by 1852); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911) (lent to London, 1871; London, 1875); then by descent to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; his sale, Sotheby’s, 14 November 1991, lot 101; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £75,000; Sir John Basil Zochonis (1929–2013)

Exhibition History

London, 1871, no.109; London, 1875, no.91; Norwich, 1903, no.54; London, 1912, no.40; Cambridge, 1920, no.40; Agnew’s, 1931, no.118; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.52; Sheffield, 1953, no.56; London, 1962a, no.153; Reading, 1969, no.52; Manchester, 1975, no.92 as ’Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire’; Agnew’s, 1992, no.29; Gowing, 1995, p.261 Harewood, 1999, no.14 as ’Kirkstall Abbey with a canal barge, evening’; London, 2002, no.180 as ’Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire, Evening’


Sparrow, 1902, p.99; Mayne, 1949, pl.4; Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, pl.9; Grigson, 1975, p.76; Sitch, 2008, p.11

About this Work

This fine late watercolour, showing Kirkstall Abbey from the Leeds–Liverpool canal, was executed from a small pencil sketch that Girtin probably made in the summer of 1800 (TG1632). The watercolour belies the idea that Girtin sought out unpopulated landscapes late in his career, since all of the dated works from 1802 are centred on towns, villages or the activities of people, and this is particularly true of this, the last of the artist’s three mature views of the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey (the others being TG1635 and TG1636). As David Hill has described, the ruins are shown from the canal near the locks at Kirkstall Forge, where a barge has been tied up for the night (Hill, 1999, p.28). This is a working, human-made landscape, therefore, as well as being the picturesque setting for an ivy-clad ruin, and the artist shows a boat being cleaned down and horses being led away along the tow path to be fed. The figure on the barge, it should be noted, is recycled from Durham Cathedral and Castle (TG1074), where he is shown repairing the weir. Just as The Leeds Guide of 1806 saw no impropriety in listing the iron forge of Messrs Butler and Beecroft at Kirkstall as worthy of the attention of travellers, so Girtin, in keeping with Charles Taylor (1756–1823), author of The Landscape Magazine, likewise regarded a ‘canal’ and a working ‘towing-path’ as suitable for a ‘picturesque’ view (Taylor, 1793, p.65). A well-managed evening light from the north west draws out a mood of pensive calm, suited equally to labourers at the end of a working day and a monument damaged, but not broken, by the ravages of time. As Hill has again stated, the choice of an evening effect has a particular significance, even though it has been exacerbated by the work’s changed condition, which has seen the greens of the foliage turn to a warm earth tone. The canal view, he notes, thus forms a ‘pendant’ with the earlier Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning (TG1636), ‘contrasting morning with evening, the river with the canal, and dark skies with light’ (Hill, 1999, p.30).

All of this is in stark contrast to Girtin’s earlier depictions of Kirkstall Abbey, which were made for his first patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), whose simple outline drawings provided the basis for two watercolours (TG0144 and TG0147) around 1792–93. The first of these works actually shows the ruins from a similar angle, but the antiquarian was careful to exclude anything that distracted from the sense that they were located in a timeless, unspoilt rural setting. In contrast, visiting the location for himself, probably whilst he was staying at the home of his patron Edward Lascelles (1764–1814) at nearby Harewood House in 1800, Girtin was free to adopt the viewpoints that he thought might make saleable commodities. Thus, although Lascelles may have commissioned a number of local views from the artist, he did not own any of his Kirkstall subjects, and it seems that they were all made for sale on the open market. This work, which must have been one of the last watercolours Girtin painted, may even have remained unsold at his death, however, as its first known owner was his son, Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74). Thus, although Thomas Calvert bought the majority of his father’s works in his collection later, it may be that in this case he inherited the watercolour, perhaps from his mother, Mary Ann Girtin (1781–1843), or even his grandfather, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843).

A particularly feeble small-scale copy of the work is located in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (WA1934.140).

(?) 1800

Kirkstall Abbey, with a Canal Barge



Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Hill


1800 - 1801

Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning



Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear


1800 - 1801

Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning


1792 - 1793

Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West


1792 - 1793

Kirkstall Abbey, from the South East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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