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Works Thomas Girtin after (?) James Moore

Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG0144: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after (?) James Moore (1762–99), Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West, 1792–93, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an original washline mount, 17.2 × 21.9 cm, 6 ¾ × 8 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1141).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) James Moore (1762-1799)
  • Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an original washline mount
17.2 × 21.9 cm, 6 ¾ × 8 ⅝ in
Mount Dimensions
25 × 29.8 cm, 9 ¾ × 11 ¾ in

‘Girtin’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin; 'Began erecting A.D. 1152' on the back of the mount left centre, by James Moore; 'Kirkstall Abby' | '8' on the back, centre right

Object Type
Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Yorkshire View

Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West (TG0334)
Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West (TG0335)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
19 as 'Kirkstall Abbey'; '1792'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


James Moore (1762–99); his widow, Mary Moore (née Howett) (d.1835); bequeathed to Anne Miller (1802–90); bequeathed to Edward Mansel Miller (1829–1912); bequeathed to Helen Louisa Miller (1842–1915); bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 1912, £25; given to Tom Girtin (1913–1994), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

Cambridge, 1920, no.2; Reading, 1969, no.20; New Haven, 1986a, no.11


Finberg, 1913, pp.131–32; Hughes and Mayne, 1950, p.30

About this Work

Kirkstall Abbey Yorkshire

Girtin’s earliest view of Kirkstall Abbey, shown from close to the west end, was probably made after an untraced sketch by the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), and Girtin did not visit the site himself until 1799 or 1800. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that the work was made after an untraced watercolour by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), that was engraved and published in May 1793 (see figure 1) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.136). This is certainly possible, but the evidence suggests that Dayes also worked from a drawing by Moore. His collection included twenty-seven watercolours signed on their mounts with Dayes’ and Moore’s names, and these invariably can be shown to be by Dayes after the amateur’s sketches. Dayes was therefore engaged by Moore in the same practice as Girtin, and at the same time as well. Girtin is documented as having worked for Moore between October 1792 and February 1793 for a fee of six shillings a day, producing small watercolours on paper measuring roughly 6 ½ × 8 ½ in (16.5 × 21.5 cm) as here, with each work carefully mounted by the patron (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 Girtin produced another view of Kirkstall Abbey for Moore at this date, showing the ruins from the south east (TG0147). Given that the other one of what appear to be a pair is clearly based on a sketch made by the amateur on his visit to the site on 2 October 1789 (see source image TG0147), it is not unreasonable to conclude that this was the case here. In all Girtin produced as many as seventy watercolours from Moore’s sketches, demonstrating in the main a sure skill in transforming a mundane study into a picturesque and effective composition.

The view of Kirkstall Abbey is one of seven or eight Yorkshire scenes that Girtin made from sketches Moore executed on his tour of the county in the autumn of 1789. They all show close-up views of the region’s ancient castles and monastic ruins and, typically of the set, this watercolour omits details of the building’s setting and develops a simple composition that did not stretch Moore’s limited capabilities as an artist. Like the other major view of Kirkstall from this period (TG0147) and the watercolour of Bolton Castle (TG0142), the abbey is shown under a placid sky and there is no attempt to develop any effects that might evoke the site’s historical associations. All of this suggests an early date for this group of works, when the young Girtin was content to render the sketches of his patron in an even light with only the generous provision of foliage to add a picturesque quality to a scene primarily of antiquarian interest. Moreover, even here there is a sense that Girtin held back; thus, whilst a contemporary writer noted how the ‘mouldering walls are overshadowed with trees and mantled with ivy’ adding to ‘the solemnity of the scene’, Girtin, following Moore’s lead, avoided any such associations (Walker, 1792–1802, vol.4, pl.188). All of this is in stark contrast to the watercolours that Girtin produced after his visit to the area in 1799 (TG1635 and TG1636), where the abbey ruins are just one element in a broad landscape dramatically enlivened by complex skies and bold lighting.

Girtin also produced a pencil drawing showing the same view of Kirkstall Abbey (TG0335), and this was presumably made from the same source as this watercolour. In turn, the pencil drawing was used as the basis for a small watercolour (TG0334) that Girtin painted for his later patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) around 1795. Girtin and Loshak attributed the pencil drawing to Dayes and suggested that it was possibly the source for Girtin’s watercolour discussed here (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.136), but it is now generally accepted to be by Girtin himself.

1792 - 1793

Kirkstall Abbey, from the South East


1792 - 1793

Kirkstall Abbey, from the South East


1792 - 1793

Kirkstall Abbey, from the South East


1792 - 1793

Bolton Castle



Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Hill


1800 - 1801

Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning


1794 - 1795

Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West


1795 - 1796

Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The document detailing the payments made to the young Girtin by Moore is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1792–93 – Item 1).

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