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Works Thomas Girtin

Southwell Minster, from the North West

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG1025: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Southwell Minster, from the North West, 1794–95, watercolour on paper, 29.9 × 38.7 cm, 11 ¾ × 15 ¼ in. Southwell Minster, The Deanery.

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Southwell Minster, from the North West
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Watercolour on paper
29.9 × 38.7 cm, 11 ¾ × 15 ¼ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; The Midlands

Southwell Minster, from the North West (TG1024)
Southwell Minster, from the North West (TG1026)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
87ii as 'Southwell Minster'; '1794'
Description Source(s)
Girtin Archive Photograph


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, 1915, £25; Leggatt Brothers, London, 1916; presented to the Red Cross Sale, Christie's, 31 March 1917, lot 1268; ... Christie's, 26 June 1931, lot 99; bought by 'Thomson', £33 12s, for the Palser Gallery, London 

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, (?) 1927, no.29; Palser Gallery, 1932b, no.83; Palser Gallery, 1933, no.16; Palser Gallery, 1934a, no.32, 120 gns; Palser Gallery, 1936, no.34, £120; Palser Gallery, 1937, no.36; Palser Gallery, 1938, no.53; Nottingham Castle Museum, 2007, no catalogue

About this Work

This view of Southwell Minster from the north west was made after a detailed pencil sketch (TG1024) that Girtin executed on his first significant trip outside London, undertaken in the summer of 1794. The tour through the Midland counties was organised by the artist’s earliest patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), who accompanied Girtin to Lichfield, Lincoln and Peterborough, as well as Southwell, so that his young protégé might sketch at first hand a group of the nation’s finest Gothic buildings. This watercolour is one of four cathedral views all measuring roughly the same that were subsequently commissioned by Moore and that Girtin seems to have painted immediately after his return from the journey, as they are dated 1794 (the others being TG1002, TG1008 and TG1017). A year earlier, Girtin had exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy, showing the watercolour Ely Cathedral, from the South East (TG0202), which had been based on a drawing by his patron, but now, working from his own on-the-spot sketches, he was able to render the complex architectural details of the cathedrals with greater fidelity and in compositions that, in contrast to the earlier Ely view, display a secure grasp of perspective.

Girtin may no longer have had to rely on his patron’s barely competent drawings, but his independence was still circumscribed, since it was Moore who presumably chose the itinerary and selected the subjects and the viewpoints from which the young artist made his sketches. In this case, the view from the north west happily combines Southwell’s distinctive western towers with the monumental crossing, and it also features the famous Chapter House to the left. The 1794 trip to the Midlands may have been Girtin’s first significant trip outside London, but the patron was still very much in charge, and the results of the artist’s efforts reflected, first and foremost, Moore’s priorities as an antiquarian. Moore’s commissions from Girtin had hitherto concentrated on recording the nation’s ruined abbeys and castles, which the antiquarian feared were destined to disappear through neglect (Moore, 1792, p.58). But the 1794 tour, with its concentration on the great cathedral buildings of the Midland counties, was at least partly motivated by his perception of a different threat to the nation’s architectural heritage, one that came from modern ‘improvers’, whose restorations at Durham and other cathedrals were deemed by antiquarians to be ill-informed at best, and often downright destructive. Southwell was largely spared the fate of many of the nation’s great sacred buildings, however, and it may be that the commission was motivated more by a desire to celebrate the building’s status as a particularly fine example of the decorative qualities of the Early English style of Gothic architecture.

In addition to another version possibly by Girtin in the Harris Museum in Preston (TG1026), a similar Southwell view attributed to Girtin came on the art market in 2002 (Arthur Johnson and Sons, Nottingham, 12 November 2002, lot 43). This does not appear to be by Girtin, however.

(?) 1794

Southwell Minster, from the North West



The West Front of Lichfield Cathedral



Lincoln Cathedral, from the West



The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral


(?) 1794

Ely Cathedral, from the South East


(?) 1795

Southwell Minster, from the North West


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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