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Works Thomas Girtin after James Moore

Melrose Abbey, from the South West

(?) 1794

Primary Image: TG0196: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after James Moore (1762–99), Melrose Abbey, from the South West, (?) 1794, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 29.9 × 33 cm, 11 ¾ × 13 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Hindman (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: James Moore (1762–99), Melrose Abbey, 22 August 1792, graphite on wove paper, 18.3 × 22.9 cm, 7 ¼ × 9 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B.1975.3.707).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after James Moore (1762-1799)
  • Melrose Abbey, from the South West
(?) 1794
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
29.9 × 33 cm, 11 ¾ × 13 in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; The Scottish Borders

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
37 as 'Melrose Abbey, Roxburgh ... 1793 ... copied with minor variations from a water-colour' by Edward Dayes
Description Source(s)
Viewed in June 2022


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 an unknown purchaser, 1912, £21; Leggatt Brothers, London, 1916; ... Fine Art Society, London, 1946; bought by Paul Tod; his sale, Christie's, 25 May 1956, lot 54; bought by the Fine Art Society, London, £52 10s; Sotheby's, 10 July 1980, lot 121 as by Edward Dayes, £420; Christie's, 18 November 1980, lot 22 as by Thomas Girtin, £1,700; Martyn Gregory Ltd; F. Alan Cummings, Tallahassee, Florida; Hindman Auctions, 27 September 2021, lot 96, $3,750; Christie's, 5 July 2022, lot 94, £8,190

About this Work

Melrose Abbey, Roxburghshire

This watercolour by Girtin depicting Melrose Abbey, in the Scottish Borders, was made after a drawing by the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99) (see the source image above), and the artist did not visit the site himself until 1800 or 1801. Girtin’s earliest patron travelled extensively in Scotland in the late summer of 1792 and his sketch of the ruined abbey church from the south west is dated 22 August. Girtin is documented as having worked for Moore between October 1792 and February 1793 for a fee of six shillings a day, producing watercolours on paper generally measuring roughly 6 ½ × 8 ½ in (16.5 × 21.5 cm) (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 In all Girtin painted seventy or so small watercolours after Moore’s sketches, including about thirty compositions derived from drawings made on the trip to Scotland. This view is significantly larger, however, and it dates from a few years later, when Girtin was employed by Moore to produce a series of more substantial views of medieval cathedrals, including Peterborough (TG1017), Lichfield (TG1002) and Ely (TG0202), which, unlike the earlier watercolours, were designed to be framed for display on the wall. In the case of Melrose Abbey, Moore initially commissioned Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), to produce a small watercolour from his on-the-spot sketch (see figure 1). Since Dayes’ watercolour is dated 1792, it seems likely that Moore first turned to him to work up a group of his Scottish drawings, some of which were reproduced in Moore’s 1794 publication Twenty-Five Views in the Southern Part of Scotland, before paying Girtin to complete the set. A year or so later, Moore presumably decided that because Melrose ‘is the most beautiful ruin in Scotland’ with ‘more specimens of Gothic ornament than are any where else to be met with’, it warranted a more substantial treatment, and he commissioned this second version of his sketch from Girtin (Moore, 1794, p.96).

Unusually for Girtin, his version of Moore’s composition is found wanting in comparison with Dayes’ work. Girtin’s sky is bland compared to the fresh, light-filled cloudscape developed by his master, and the fact that he worked at second hand from another artist’s sketch is all too evident from the far from secure perspective of the building and the yellowish tone of the stone. Dayes, in comparison, at least hints at the fact that the building is made of a red sandstone and he makes a more effective link between the south transept, the ruined crossing tower and the nave to the left. With only Moore’s drawing to hand, Girtin was also unable to clearly distinguish between the ruined transept, the crossing and the nave, which was then in use as the parish church. At the time of Moore’s visit, and prior to the building of a new church in the town, part of the ruined abbey was thus fitted out for worship, but this is far from clear from Girtin’s watercolour. Moreover, in comparison with many of the other, larger-scale views of Gothic structures that Girtin made for Moore from his own pencil drawings, the architectural details of Melrose lack clarity. The ornate sculptural decoration of the south transept and the complex window tracery are fudged and unconvincing, and it was presumably works such as this that persuaded Moore that if Girtin was to work for him on an enlarged scale, he would need to visit and sketch the subject for himself.


The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral



The West Front of Lichfield Cathedral


(?) 1794

Ely Cathedral, from the South East


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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