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Works Thomas Girtin

Malmesbury: The Market Cross

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG1292: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Malmesbury: The Market Cross, 1795–96, graphite on wove paper, 19 × 23.4 cm, 7 ½ × 9 ¼ in. Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury.

Photo courtesy of Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Malmesbury: The Market Cross
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
19 × 23.4 cm, 7 ½ × 9 ¼ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Domestic Buildings; The Village; Wiltshire View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Sotheby's, 11 May 1865, lot 325 as ‘Malmesbury Cross, Wiltshire, with many figures’; bought by ‘Ford’, £1 1s; ... Joanna Booth, Kings Road, Chelsea; bought from her by the Museum, 1982


Warrell, 2020, p.19

About this Work

This sketch of the late fifteenth-century market cross in Malmesbury at first sight appears to have been executed on the artist’s West Country tour in 1797. The manner in which the artist has carefully recorded the architectural details of the medieval cross and the projecting fronts of the houses on the south side of Gloucester Street recalls The Guildhall, Exeter (TG1255), drawn on Girtin’s trip to Dorset and Devon, and Malmesbury might easily have been taken in on his return to London. However, the discovery during the creation of this online catalogue of an identical view apparently by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), makes this highly unlikely (see figure 1). The two drawings have the same dimensions and, if one overlays the outline over an image of the watercolour, the congruence of forms is such as to suggest that Girtin traced Dayes’ work. Looking again at Girtin’s drawing and comparing it with his other view of the market cross at Malmesbury and its setting (TG1291), one is struck by the way that the artist includes every detail, down to the figures. In contrast to what I take to be a later, on-the-spot sketch, this drawing appears overdetermined, which perhaps should have suggested from the outset that it was copied from another artist rather than drawn from life.

Malmesbury Cross

Soon after the abovementioned discovery, another surprising find emerged. Looking through the sale catalogue of the antiquarian author John Britton, I came across a lot described as ‘Malmesbury Abbey Cross’, which was said to be a joint work by Girtin and his colleague Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) (Exhibitions: Fletcher, 15 April 1846, lot 1803). At the time of the 1846 sale, all of the watercolours that the two artists had worked on together at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) were attributed to Turner alone, and so Britton must have had good evidence to think that the work was the product of the artists collaborating. More to the point, could it be that the watercolour now attributed to Dayes is actually the untraced Girtin–Turner collaboration? It has not been possible to pin the attribution down conclusively, working solely from an online image, but it is clearly a strong possibility. If it is indeed the case that the watercolour was jointly produced at Monro’s home, this would help to solve at least some of the problems associated with the pencil drawing. In particular, rather than being a copy of the watercolour, it would therefore appear that the drawing was produced at the same time as part of its production process, as was the case with another street scene painted for Monro, Dartford High Street (TG0843). The watercolour clearly dates from prior to Girtin’s West Country trip in 1797, however, and so it still means that the artist copied his image from another source. Rather than Dayes, this might therefore again be a case of Girtin using a drawing by his earliest patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99). Moore visited Wiltshire on the way to the West Country in 1791 and at least half a dozen of his sketches from the trip formed the basis of watercolours by Girtin.

Image Overlay

(?) 1797

The Guildhall, Exeter


(?) 1797

Malmesbury Market Cross


1795 - 1796

Dartford High Street


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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