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Works Thomas Girtin after Edward Dayes

Margam Abbey Church, from the North West

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG0280: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Margam Abbey Church, from the North West, 1794–95, graphite on wove paper, 16 × 23 cm, 6 ¼ × 9 in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVII 28 (D36599).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Margam Abbey, 1791, graphite and watercolour on paper, on an original mount, 14 × 21.6 cm, 5 ½ × 8 ½ in. Private Collection, Yorkshire.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive, PA-F02878-0015 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Margam Abbey Church, from the North West
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
16 × 23 cm, 6 ¼ × 9 in
Object Type
Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; South Wales

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1240 as 'Church' by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This is one of forty or so outline drawings by Girtin that came from the collection of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), many of which were bought at his posthumous sale by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) and are now therefore to be found in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain. The majority were copied by Girtin from the sketches of either his first significant patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), or his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), and none of the drawings were made on the spot. The outlines, all conforming to Moore’s standard size of roughly 6 × 8 ¾ in (15.2 × 22.2 cm), were probably made around 1794–95, at a time when Girtin, together with Turner, was employed at Monro’s home at the Adelphi to produce watercolour versions of the outlines of John Robert Cozens (1752–97), amongst others. The precise function of Girtin’s copies after the drawings of Moore and Dayes is not so clear, however. A significant number were used as the basis for small watercolours painted on card, measuring roughly 3 × 4 ¾ in (7.6 × 12.1 cm), including fifteen or so that found a home in the Turner Bequest, and these may have been produced with a topographical publication in mind. That, in itself, does not explain why Monro came to own the larger pencil copies, however. In the absence of any documentary evidence, my hunch is that rather than being commissioned by Monro, the drawings were produced by Girtin for his own use as models for possible watercolour compositions – they all depict views of subjects he could not have seen by this date – and that he subsequently sold them to his patron.

Girtin’s model for his drawing of Margam Abbey Church in South Wales would, initially at least, appear to be an untraced sketch that formed the basis of a dated watercolour by Dayes from 1791 – that is, during the period of his apprenticeship (see the source image above). However, it is by no means certain that Dayes visited South Wales either, and it is likely that he based his watercolour on a drawing by Moore, who travelled there in the summer of 1789. Thus, although no sketch by Moore appears to have survived, it is likely that Dayes worked from a secondary source, but whether Girtin used this too or made his copy from his master cannot be determined.

The attribution of the pencil outlines in the Turner Bequest was a matter of considerable confusion until the publication of Andrew Wilton’s cogently argued article on the Monro School in 1984 (Wilton, 1984a, pp.9–10). Initially, Alexander Finberg, the first cataloguer of the bequest, ascribed the outlines to Girtin but thought that they were made on the spot (Finberg, 1913). Charles F. Bell, in turn, recognised that the drawings were copies, but suggested that they were made by George Isham Parkyns (c.1749–1824) in relation to his work on Moore’s Monastic Remains and Ancient Castles in England and Wales (1792) (Bell, 1915–17, pp.60–66). Then in 1938 Bell changed his mind and switched the attribution to Dayes, citing a letter from Turner in which he stated his opinion that the drawings he had bought from Monro’s sale had been produced by Girtin’s master (Bell, 1938–39, pp.97–103). Finally, Wilton’s article seems to have settled the argument, and I for one have no doubts about the attribution to Girtin of the set of drawings.

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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