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Works Thomas Girtin

St James’s Park, with Westminster Abbey in the Distance

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1391: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), St James's Park, with Westminster Abbey in the Distance, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on an original mount, 23.7 × 49.5 cm, 9 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 19 ½ in. National Gallery of Art, Washington (1986.72.8).

Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art Washington (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • St James’s Park, with Westminster Abbey in the Distance
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper, on an original mount
23.7 × 49.5 cm, 9 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 19 ½ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
London and Environs; Panoramic Format

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


Maas Gallery, London, 1962; bought from them by Paul Mellon (1907–99); presented to the Gallery, 1986

Exhibition History

Richmond, Virginia, 1963, no.169; New Haven, 1986a, but not in the catalogue

About this Work

Rosamond's Pond, St James's Park, with Westminster Abbey Beyond

This badly faded watercolour, showing a panoramic view from St James’s Park looking east towards Westminster Abbey, is dominated by a large body of water in the foreground. The poor condition of the work probably means that some of the more subtle reflections have been lost, but the featureless expanse of water is nonetheless disturbing, because, to put it bluntly, its disproportionate presence indicates that Girtin’s view is not so much a topographical record as a fanciful confection that bears only a passing resemblance to St James’s Park in the 1790s. The key to understanding the extent of Girtin’s deception is provided by the only other view that I have been able to find of Westminster Abbey looking from the west and a viewpoint close to what is now Buckingham Palace, an oil painting by John Inigo Richards (1731–1810) (see figure 1). This shows the same parallel view of the west front of the abbey church, with the tower of St Margaret’s, Westminster to the left, and it also has a body of water in the foreground. However, Rosamond’s Pond, as it was known, was drained in 1770, and no trace of it remained during Girtin’s time, which explains why no similar view of the iconic abbey has been traced. Trying to understand exactly what Girtin was up to, I came up with two possibilities. Firstly, despite the fact that he lived only a few minutes’ walk away, the artist may actually have worked up his watercolour from an old drawing that included Rosamond’s Pond, which provided the sort of broad foreground that he favoured for his more panoramic views. This, after all, is essentially what he did time and again in his work for patrons such as James Moore (1762–99) and Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), though in this case he would have had to adapt his source wholesale to exclude the more formal tree-lined alleys that bordered the water. Secondly, and this is the option I favour, perhaps Girtin simply invented the body of water in order to direct the eye into the middle ground and anchor what amounts to an experiment in how the city might be depicted in a panoramic format. However, even making allowances for the work’s poor condition, it is an exercise that has failed, and, unlike his later panorama of London – the seven scenes that make up the 360-degree view known as the Eidometropolis, which adopts an elevated viewpoint – the result is frankly disappointing, resembling the older prospect tradition of expansive city views, though I would stop short of questioning the attribution to Girtin.

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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