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Works Thomas Girtin

St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1756: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), St Ann's Gate, Salisbury, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 32.7 × 52.6 cm, 12 ⅞ × 20 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.6).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
32.7 × 52.6 cm, 12 ⅞ × 20 ¾ in

'1 November 1802' on an old mount, by John Girtin (now lost)

Object Type
Unfinished Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Town and Domestic Fortifications; Street Scene; The Country Town; Wiltshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
485 as 'St. Anne's Gate, Salisbury ... Unfinished'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


John Girtin (1773–1821); probably bought from him by Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

London, 1953a, no.38; London, 2002, no.76 as c.1800


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.46; Finberg, 1905 as 'Shrewsbury'; Davies, 1924, pl.96; Mayne, 1949, p.69

About this Work

This unfinished watercolour shows Exeter Street in Salisbury, with the fourteenth-century structure of St Ann’s Gate prominent to the right. Some earlier writers thought that the work was left unfinished because of the artist’s death on 9 November 1802, and that it therefore belongs to the mythical category of the ‘artist’s last work’ (Mayne, 1949, p.69). Writing in the catalogue of the 2002 bicentenary exhibition of Girtin’s work, I questioned whether there was any evidence to back this up, and I consequently dated the work to around 1800 (Smith, 2002b, p.106). The discovery of new evidence, however, has led to a change of mind and I am now convinced that St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury is indeed Girtin’s last and unfinished work. The drawing was said to have been inscribed on an old mount by the artist’s brother, John Girtin (1773–1821), with the date of ‘1 November 1802’, and it is now clear, following the emergence of the accounts that John presented in response to the Chancery case taken out by Mary Ann Girtin (1781–1843), that he was in a unique position to have known what Girtin was working on at the time of his death in his studio in the Strand. Indeed, it is highly likely that the unfinished work was one of the watercolours that John Girtin removed from the studio at the artist’s death, as ‘security for the repayment’ of the loans that he had provided to his brother, and that he therefore subsequently sold it as part of his dealings in Girtin’s works (Smith, 2017–18, pp.35–36; Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak argued that we can be sure that watercolours such as the views identified as showing Storiths Heights, near Bolton Abbey (TG1686) or St Vincent’s Rocks (TG1735) were amongst the latest due to their tragic mood, which suggested an awareness ‘that death was not far off’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.90–94). However, Girtin’s actual last work is a provincial street scene in which the numerous figures go about their daily lives in an image of commercial sociability, untinged by any hint of angst.

In addition to having biographical interest, the watercolour provides significant details about Girtin’s later working methods, though it must be noted that this has been distorted by its faded condition. Thus, the sky has lost the range of greys used to depict the clouds and one of the blues has also all but disappeared, whilst the vegetation, to the right, is also discoloured. Having made allowances for these changes, it is still possible to see the way that Girtin finished some areas before others; thus, whilst the sky would have been completed, the foreground, and the figures in particular, are roughly sketched in or left blank. The late Eric Shanes, in a fine example of technical exposition, traced the way in which Girtin used up to fifteen different tones to create the final rich effect seen in the finished Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Hill (TG1635), working each colour mix across the sheet of paper before turning to the next in an example of what the writer terms the ‘scale practice’ (Shanes, 1997, p.46). Applying the same principle to this work, it is clear that Girtin washed in about seven or eight tints, suggesting that it is therefore about half complete, with more detailed work on the figures, perhaps using some opaque bodycolour, being left to last.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid cartridge paper by an unknown English manufacturer (Smith, 2002b, p.102; Bower, Report).

1800 - 1801

An Upland Landscape, Identified as Storiths Heights, near Bolton Abbey


(?) 1800

St Vincent’s Rocks and the Avon Gorge



Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Hill


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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