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Works Thomas Girtin

Layer Marney Tower

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG1409: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Layer Marney Tower, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 24.3 × 29.9 cm, 9 ⅝ × 11 ¾ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1169).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Layer Marney Tower
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
24.3 × 29.9 cm, 9 ⅝ × 11 ¾ in

‘Thorn’, lower left; ‘white’ on the wall leading to the gate; ‘earth’ below; ‘Laremarney Castle, Essex’ lower left on the back, by Thomas Girtin; ‘Royal’, on the back

Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Essex View; Gothic Architecture: Town and Domestic Fortifications

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
126 as 'Layer Marney Hall, Essex'; '1795'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


George Wyndham Girtin (1836–1912), by 1879; then by descent to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

New Haven, 1986a, no.28, as ’c.1795’

About this Work

This sketch of Layer Marney Tower in Essex adopts an unusual viewpoint, with the west wing (in the foreground) all but obscuring the famous early sixteenth-century gatehouse beyond. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak dated the drawing to 1795, arguing that it was ‘unfinished’, and, though they do not explain the grounds for either assertion, the use of the term ‘underpainting’ to describe the colouring suggests that they thought it was an incomplete studio work and was not therefore made in the field (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.151). This is surely wrong, for why would Girtin have inscribed the drawing with notes such as ‘Thorn’, ‘white’ (on the wall next to the gate) and ‘earth’ (below)? Two alternative scenarios immediately suggest themselves. The first is that Girtin did indeed make his drawing on the spot in Essex, and, because it is very unlikely that the young artist was free to travel to the area early in his career, we should look at a later date for this sketch. Girtin exhibited a work titled ‘A mill in Essex’ at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1799 (probably TG1416) and produced a series of picturesque farm scenes in the same county, such as Turver’s Farm, Wimbish (TG1414), on commission from his future father-in-law, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843), at about the same time. All of this strongly suggests that the artist visited the area at this date. If this work was produced and coloured on the spot, then it would have been in around 1798–99, therefore. The alternative is that the work, like so many of Girtin’s architectural views, was actually copied from a sketch by another artist. The antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), who provided Girtin with the model for numerous scenes, visited the county in 1790 and at least four of his Essex sketches were developed by Girtin into watercolours, including images of nearby Tolleshunt D’Arcy Church (TG0317) and the gatehouse of Beckingham Hall (TG0346). The fact that Layer Marney Tower is well away from the route Girtin must have taken on his visit to the county around 1798–99, added to the very obvious antiquarian interest of the subject, certainly in contrast to the picturesque focus of the later Essex views, suggests that the view was copied from an untraced sketch by Moore sometime around 1795–96.

Moore’s sketches either were pure outlines or had a simple monochrome wash added, so it is clear that Girtin’s colouring was not also copied from his source. However, if they were not added on the spot, we are left with the question of what function the washes of colour performed, not least because of the inscriptions noted above. Certainly, it is possible that Girtin added some colour to test how a finished watercolour might appear, but the more probable explanation is that, as in a number of other cases, most notably another Essex view, Writtle Church (TG1453), the artist returned to the sketch at a later date. We know from inscriptions in the book of drawings now in The Whitworth, Manchester, that Girtin was in the habit of selling sketches coloured on the spot (see the reference to a ‘sketch’ of ‘Rippon Minster cold on the Spot’ on TG1618), and there is a strong possibility that some of these were actually studio works misleadingly labelled. I suspect that this is what happened in this case: a studio copy was coloured to give the impression of a drawing made from life. It is impossible to tell precisely when this occurred, but the range of tints used – a mushroom grey for the walls, a darker grey for the tiles, and a pale cream and some pink for the sunlit gatehouse – suggests a few years later, when Girtin had moved away from the predominantly blue and green tones of his watercolour versions of Moore’s works that he produced around 1795 (such as TG0346). Indeed, with the exception of the blue and grey in the sky, the drawing employs the same tints as Writtle Church and I strongly suspect that Girtin worked on the two sketches at the same time.

(?) 1799

A Mill in Essex


(?) 1799

Turver’s Farm, Wimbish


(?) 1795

Tolleshunt D’Arcy Church


1794 - 1795

The Gatehouse of Beckingham Hall, Tolleshunt Major


1795 - 1796

Writtle Church


(?) 1800

The East End of Bolton Priory Church


1794 - 1795

The Gatehouse of Beckingham Hall, Tolleshunt Major


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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