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Works Thomas Girtin

St Albans Abbey: The West Porch

(?) 1796

Primary Image: TG1035: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), St Albans Abbey: The West Porch, (?) 1796, graphite on laid paper (watermark: Fleur-de-Lys, cut at the top), 36.4 × 26.1 cm, 14 ⅜ × 10 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1142).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • St Albans Abbey: The West Porch
(?) 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite on laid paper (watermark: Fleur-de-Lys, cut at the top)
36.4 × 26.1 cm, 14 ⅜ × 10 ¼ in

‘T. Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin; 'West Entrance of St. Albans - Herts -' on the back, lower right

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Hertfordshire

St Albans Abbey: The West Porch (TG1036)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
212i as 'St. Alban's Cathedral'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 16 May 1881, lot 390 as 'west entrance of St Alban’s', one of four; bought by Palser, £2 5s; J. Palser & Sons; Sir Henry Doulton (1820–97); Edward Cohen (1817–86); then by bequest to his niece, Isabella Oswald (1838–1905); her posthumous sale, Robins & Hine, 30 March 1905, lot unknown; bought by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), £1; 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

New Haven, 1986a, no.58


YCBA Online as 'St. Alban's Cathedral, Hertfordshire' (Accessed 15/09/2022)

About this Work

This drawing by Girtin of the central porch of the west front of St Albans Abbey was probably sketched during the artist’s visit to the city north of London around 1796, when he was collecting material for a major watercolour view of the interior of the church, The Interior of St Albans Abbey (TG1040). The complex watercolour, which was shown at the 1797 exhibition of the Royal Academy, would have required a detailed pencil study for its production, and the artist seems to have taken the opportunity to make at least three other sketches of the abbey and its surrounds (the others being TG1034 and TG1037). The west porch, shown in this sketch, was built in the early thirteenth century, but by the time of Girtin’s visit it was dilapidated and it was subsequently swept away when the west front was rebuilt in the 1880s. Girtin’s drawing, together with the small watercolour that was subsequently painted from it (TG1036), has therefore become a valuable historical record of a building that was altered in many areas almost beyond recognition during the Victorian period. Overlaying images of the sketch of the porch and the later watercolour version shows how closely Girtin followed his on-the-spot sketch, but it is questionable whether he made the drawing with a finished watercolour in mind. It seems to have been produced as part of a campaign to record the most attractive aspects of the building, and it appears that it was only subsequently that the artist realised the potential of the drawing as the subject of a sketch-like view, very different from the formal composition of the large-scale The Interior of St Albans Abbey.

Girtin was one of many London-based artists who took advantage of the proximity of St Albans to the capital to add views of the Abbey to their repertoire of grand Gothic buildings - St Albans only acquired its cathedral status much later. Girtin’s great contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) visited in 1793 when he also sketched the porch (Tate, Turner Bequest XXI R).

Image Overlay


The Interior of St Albans Abbey


(?) 1796

The Gateway, St Albans Abbey


(?) 1796

St Albans Abbey, from the East


1798 - 1799

St Albans Abbey: The West Porch


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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