For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin after James Moore

Pluscarden Abbey

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG0082: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after James Moore (1762–99), Pluscarden Abbey, 1792–93, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an original washline mount, 21.8 × 16.9 cm, 8 ⅝ × 6 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1146).

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

Artist's source: James Moore (1762–99), Pluscarden Abbey, 16 September 1792, graphite on wove paper, 22.9 × 18.1 cm, 9 × 7 ⅛ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.745).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after James Moore (1762-1799)
  • Pluscarden Abbey
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an original washline mount
21.8 × 16.9 cm, 8 ⅝ × 6 ⅝ in
Mount Dimensions
29.7 × 24.9 cm, 11 ⅝ × 9 ¾ in

‘T Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin; ‘Pluscardine Abbey’ on the mount, by James Moore

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Scottish View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
42 as 'Pluscardine Priory, Elgin'; '1793'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 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); bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 1912, £25; 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

Cambridge, 1920, no.8; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.44; London, 1962a, no.119; New Haven, 1986a, no.25; London, 2002, no.37


YCBA Online online as 'Pluscardine Abbey, Elgin' (accessed 02/09/2022)

About this Work

This watercolour by Girtin depicting the ruins of Pluscarden Abbey, inland from Elgin on the north-east coast of Scotland, was made after a drawing by the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99) (see source image TG0082), and Girtin himself never visited the site. Girtin’s earliest patron undertook an extensive tour of the country in the late summer of 1792, and this sketch of the Benedictine abbey from the north west is dated 16 September. 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), as here, each with its own distinctive washline mount and inscription added by the patron (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 In this case the colour from the drawing has seeped onto the mount, a good indication that it was conceived as an integral part of the watercolour. 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. Moore employed other artists to work up his sketches for reproduction, including Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), but it seems that the seventeen-year-old artist, who may still have been an apprentice at this date, was tasked with simply producing the best watercolours he could from the little more than functional records produced by the antiquarian. Moore’s collection of watercolours by Girtin, which eventually numbered over a hundred, remained in the ownership of his descendants until it was broken up after 1912, when this work was acquired by a great-grandson of the artist, Thomas Girtin (1874–1960).

Moore produced two other sketches at Pluscarden, each showing a more extensive view of the ruined church, but he chose to commission a watercolour from Girtin showing the rather shapeless and unpicturesque crossing tower, in which the arch that once led to the nave is blocked off with the south transept to the right. As if to compensate for the unpromising view adopted by Moore, Girtin added a particularly attractive skyscape, dominated by a dramatic rainbow, as well as a lively figure group of an itinerant traveller and his dog. Not all of Girtin’s watercolours after Moore’s drawings are enriched to this degree, but within the group as a whole the artist incorporated an encyclopaedic range of effects, which meant that their production was more than a simple mechanical exercise. Uniquely for the monastic ruins depicted by Moore during his travels, Pluscarden has since been restored to use. The church has been reroofed and a new set of buildings has been constructed to the north to once again accommodate a community of Benedictine monks.

1792 - 1793

Pluscarden Abbey


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).

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.