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Works Thomas Girtin

Lincoln Cathedral, from the West


Primary Image: TG1008: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Lincoln Cathedral, from the West, 1794, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 38.7 × 30.3 cm, 15 ¼ × 11 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Lowell Libson Ltd. (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: Bartholomew Howlett (1767–1827), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), etching and engraving, 'Lincoln Cathedral' for A Selection of Views in the County of Lincoln, 14 February 1798, 37.7 × 26.8 cm, 14 ⅞ × 10 ½ in. British Museum, London (1878,1214.518).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Lincoln Cathedral, from the West
Medium and Support
Watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
38.7 × 30.3 cm, 15 ¼ × 11 ⅞ in

‘Girtin 1794’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Lincolnshire

Lincoln Cathedral, from the West (TG1007)
Lincoln Cathedral, from the West (TG1009)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
86i as 'Lincoln Cathedral'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2002


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); J. Palser & Sons (stock no.17468); bought by Lady Florence Walston and Sir Charles Walston (Waldstein) (1856–1927), 6 April 1914; Sir Patrick Browne; then by descent to 1997; Spink-Leger Pictures

Exhibition History

Palser Gallery, 1914, no.89; Cambridge, 1920, no.12a; Lincoln, 1927, catalogue untraced; Agnew’s, 1931, no.136; Lincoln, 1939, no.6; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.87; Spink-Leger, London, 1997, no.9; London, 2002, no.39

About this Work

This view of Lincoln Cathedral, shown from the west, is the earliest of two watercolours (the other being TG1009) that Girtin made after a detailed pencil sketch (TG1001) that he executed on his first significant trip outside London, undertaken in the summer of 1794. The tour through the Midland counties was organised by the artist’s earliest patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), who accompanied Girtin to Lichfield, Southwell and Peterborough, as well as Lincoln, so that his young protégé might sketch at first hand a group of the nation’s finest Gothic buildings. This watercolour, which is dated 1794, is one of four cathedral views that were subsequently commissioned by Moore and that Girtin seems to have painted immediately after his return from the journey (the others being TG1002, TG1017 and TG0996). A year earlier, Girtin had exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy, showing the watercolour Ely Cathedral, from the South East (TG0202), which had been based on a drawing by his patron, but now, working from his own on-the-spot sketches, the young artist was able to render the complex architectural details of the cathedrals with greater fidelity and in compositions that, in contrast to the earlier view of Ely, displayed a secure grasp of perspective.

Girtin may no longer have had to rely on his patron’s barely competent drawings, but his independence was still circumscribed, since it was Moore who presumably chose the itinerary and selected the subjects and the viewpoints from which the artist made his sketches. In this case, the chosen viewpoint gave a suitable prominence to the cathedral’s distinctive arrangement of three towers, including the two spires, which a few years later were removed, but it left the artist with a difficult problem since, as a later writer noted, ‘Had the view been taken a few paces more to the south-west’, the left hand of the western towers ‘would have been detached from the centre one’. Faced with the challenge of differentiating two overlapping towers on different planes, the inexperienced artist chose to render the central structure in a different, contrasting tone of grey. The same writer noted that the obvious solution – moving the viewpoint to the right – would have meant that the effect of the ‘picturesque foreground … would have been lost’, pointing to the larger problem that plagues the watercolour (Howlett, 1805, no page numbers). Namely, the choice of viewpoint, with a picturesque row of cottages leading to a magnificent Gothic monument, meant it was beyond Girtin’s ability, at this date, to render the contrasting structures in a unified manner that was also convincing spatially. A picturesque foreground, painted loosely in a warm palette, thus abruptly gives way to a different set of conventions for the depiction of complex architectural details, with the result that we appear to be viewing two different pictures yoked together.

The Moore commission was one of two views of Lincoln cathedral by Girtin that were engraved by Bartholomew Howlett (1767–1827) (see the print after, above) for inclusion in his publication A Selection of Views in the County of Lincoln. The text accompanying the engraving crucially notes that this and another ‘view’ of Lincoln were ‘contributed by the proprietor of the Drawings, James Moore, Esq. F. S. A., who visited this Cathedral in the year 1794, accompanied by Mr. Girtin’ (Howlett, 1805). Moore’s visit was not undertaken with the intention of producing images for Howlett’s use, however. Most if not all of the other nine drawings that Girtin subsequently contributed to the publication were actually made after sketches by various amateurs, and Moore was happy to lend works commissioned from Girtin to publishers and engravers who shared his interests. Howlett’s print, a mixture of etching for the picturesque foreground and engraved lines for the cathedral, was no more successful at resolving the conflict that mars the watercolour; indeed, the combination of print techniques, if anything, makes the uneasy juxtaposition more explicit.

1795 - 1796

Lincoln Cathedral, from the West


(?) 1794

The West Front of Lichfield Cathedral



The West Front of Lichfield Cathedral



The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral


1794 - 1795


(?) 1794

Ely Cathedral, from the South East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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