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

Rievaulx Abbey


Primary Image: TG1658: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Rievaulx Abbey, 1800, watercolour on paper, 31.1 × 47 cm, 12 ¼ × 18 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Rievaulx Abbey
Medium and Support
Watercolour on paper
31.1 × 47 cm, 12 ¼ × 18 ½ in

‘Girtin 1800’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Yorkshire View

Rievaulx Abbey (TG1057)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Girtin Archive Photograph


Christie's, 19 March 1887, lot 37; bought by 'Agnew'; Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.8343); bought by Grace Mary Kessler (née Ashton), 17 December 1888, £31 10s; then by descent to Ruth Mary Stowell (née Kessler) (lent to Agnew's, 1953)

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1888, no.254; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.7

About this Work

This faded watercolour of an interior view of the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, looking towards the great north transept window, has not been seen in public since 1953 and is known only from a black and white photograph. Nonetheless, it is still possible to concur with Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak’s attribution of the work to Girtin and to agree with the notion that it was produced from an earlier sketch, presumably made on the artist’s first trip to Yorkshire and the north east, in 1796 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.168). However, what they describe as an earlier version of the composition is almost certainly a copy (TG1057), possibly by Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. Evidence that the work was produced in 1800 from an earlier sketch comes in the form of the similarity of the composition to any number of views of the great ruined abbey churches of Yorkshire and the north east that Girtin made the subject of his studies on the 1796 tour. Sketches of the interiors of the ruined churches at Lindisfarne and Fountains Abbey provided the basis for watercolour views (TG1108 and TG1508b) that include the same dramatically foreshortened architecture, along with figures and animals negotiating similar mounds of earth and rubble that threaten to return the ruins to their natural state. More particularly, in this case, there is confirmation that Girtin studied the ruins at Rievaulx on an earlier trip in the form of the magnificent watercolour of the exterior of the same transept seen from the north west (TG1056), which must have been one of the two views of ‘Rivaux Abbey’ or ‘River’s Abbey, Yorkshire’ shown at the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1798 (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1798, nos.493 or 650).

The reason that Girtin looked back to one of his earlier Yorkshire subjects in 1800 is likely to be related to his burgeoning professional relationship with Reynolds, who recorded in October 1801 that he then owned ‘Drawings by Girtin … 19 Large size – at £7. 7 each …10 smaller … 4. 4 each’ (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1 I suspect that the interior view of Rievaulx Abbey was one of the smaller watercolours that Girtin supplied to Reynolds and that it is therefore one of more than thirty works that he dated ‘1800’. The latter point is significant, because until that year the artist had never dated more than one or two of his works, and it seems that the change in his practice was governed by the need to prove to the market that his representative was not hawking old, unsold stock. If I am right – and the existence of the copy, possibly by Reynolds (TG1057), might help to confirm this – then the decision by Girtin to return to his earlier sketches was a commercial one, based on a calculation of what might sell on an open market that was very different from the one that governed the production and sale of the earlier Academy exhibit.



1800 - 1805

Rievaulx Abbey


1796 - 1797

Lindisfarne: The Nave and Crossing of the Priory Church


1798 - 1799

An Interior View of Fountains Abbey: The East Window from the Presbytery


1800 - 1805

Rievaulx Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The details are contained in a letter from Reynolds to Sawrey Gilpin (1733–1807). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4).

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.