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Works Thomas Girtin

St Albans Abbey: The West Porch

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1036: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), St Albans Abbey: The West Porch, 1798–99, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 31.9 × 24.6 cm, 12 ½ × 9 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1188).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • St Albans Abbey: The West Porch
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper
31.9 × 24.6 cm, 12 ½ × 9 ⅝ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin in brown wash (the 'G' has been cut, suggesting that the signature once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Hertfordshire

St Albans Abbey: The West Porch (TG1035)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
212ii as 'St. Alban's Cathedral'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Possibly bought by Peter Bluett (1767–1843) of Holcombe Court, Devon; then by descent to Peter Frederick Bluett (1806–84); Holcombe Court bought by the Revd William Rayer (1786–1866), 1858; his collection by descent to Revd George Morganig William Thomas Jenkins (1879–1952); acquired by Gooden & Fox Ltd.; presented to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 1935; 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.51; Sheffield, 1953, no.46; London, 1962a, no.128; New Haven, 1986a, no.59; London, 2002, no.49 as ’West Front of St Alban’s Abbey, Hertfordshire’


Leeson, 2021, pp.117–18; YCBA Online as 'St. Alban's Cathedral, Hertfordshire' (Accessed 15/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the central porch of the west front of St Albans Abbey is closely based on a pencil drawing that was probably made around 1796 (TG1035), when Girtin was gathering material for a major exhibition watercolour of the interior of the church, The Interior of St Albans Abbey (TG1040). The porch, part of the early thirteenth-century west front, was in a poor condition at the time of Girtin’s visit and it was subsequently rebuilt in the 1880s. Girtin’s drawings have therefore become a valuable historical record of what was lost in the process, though there is an irony in this, since by the date of the watercolour’s completion, perhaps two or three years after the drawing, the artist was more concerned with the patterns made by the play of light on sculptural forms than with carefully noting architectural details. The later date of the watercolour view of the west porch is confirmed by the fact that it is one of ten works by Girtin that were discovered in Holcombe Court in Devon, possibly from the collection of Peter Bluett (1767–1863), all of which date from around 1799–1800 (for example, TG0880 and TG1233), and stylistically, this seems about right for this work too. The crucial point here is that because we know that the watercolour is based on an earlier drawing, and overlaying images of the two works confirms this, it is possible to reinterpret what initially seem to be clear signs that it was coloured on the spot. Thus, the way that the limited number of washes Girtin employed were added in a rapid and fluid manner is actually the result of careful and considered work in the studio, characteristic of a new type of commodity that Girtin pioneered from around 1796. Working from the earlier pencil outline of a part of the building, very different in character from the more formal composition of The Interior of St Albans Abbey, Girtin matched the fragmentary view with a sketch-like and improvised treatment that suggests a scene caught and represented by the speed of the artist’s brushwork, for which there was clearly a market.

In addition to the survival of the detailed pencil drawing on which this pseudo-sketch is based, there is one further sign that the watercolour was carefully worked in the studio. To the left, Girtin’s prominent signature has been cut, suggesting that the drawing was originally surrounded by a washline mount that has subsequently been removed, taking with it the part of the letter ‘G’ that had strayed onto it. It is not just that the artist regarded the mount as an integral part of the watercolour, but also the process of mounting must have preceded its completion, and therefore for practical reasons works such as this could not have been achieved anywhere else but in the studio.

Image Overlay

(?) 1796

St Albans Abbey: The West Porch



The Interior of St Albans Abbey


1800 - 1801

An Imaginary City, with Antique Buildings


(?) 1800

Jedburgh Abbey, from the Riverbank


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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