For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

St Mary’s Church, Battersea


Primary Image: TG0016: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), St Mary's Church, Battersea, 1791, graphite on wove paper, 18.7 × 25.2 cm, 7 ⅜ × 10 in. Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery (FAW 354).

Photo courtesy of Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • St Mary’s Church, Battersea
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
18.7 × 25.2 cm, 7 ⅜ × 10 in

‘Battersea Sepr 16 1791’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
London and Environs; River Scenery; The River Thames

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
7 as 'Battersea Church'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


John Henderson (1764–1843); then by descent; Walker’s Galleries, London, 1934; R. H. Whittle; presented to the Museum, 1937

Exhibition History

Walker’s Galleries, 1934, no.111; London, 2002, no.20

About this Work

The precise significance of Girtin’s earliest dated pencil drawing very much depends on the vexed question of the extent of his period of apprenticeship to Edward Dayes (1763–1804). The drawing is dated 16 September 1791, by which point the sixteen-year-old artist would have been less than two and a half years into the seven he was legally required to serve his master. The sixteenth was a Friday and one might imagine that Dayes allowed his pupil time off from the practical tasks of the studio and directed him towards a complex sketching exercise in the field. Dayes insisted that students should first master the art of depicting forms in outline before moving on to the use of colour, and in his drawing manual he stressed the importance of a ‘sure and firm line’. Line was crucial even in landscape, he argued, since ‘as there is a perfect contour in Nature, to define form by lines is the highest effort of art’ (Dayes, Works, p.282). Girtin’s response to Dayes’ strictures is a rather stiff study of the complex spatial relationship between the church and the adjacent wharf, but, within a year, as the drawing All Saints’ Church, Fulham, from the Seven Bells, Putney indicates (TG0059), he was able to subtly vary the strength of his touch, thereby capturing both the precise forms of the building and its place within a natural setting.

However, it is far from certain that Girtin was still tied to Dayes’ service even at this early date and, indeed, something does not quite add up here. It is hard to believe that Dayes would have set his pupil a far from standard picturesque architectural view. The church itself had only been completed in 1777, replacing an older, altogether more picturesque structure, and the sketch shows just as much interest in the wharves and the riverside industry as the building. The view is taken from a low viewpoint, suggesting that the artist sketched from a boat on the river, and it was drawings such as this that persuaded Girtin’s earliest biographer to argue that it was on ‘the truly picturesque shore of Lambeth’ and ‘the opposite shore of Chelsea’ that Girtin formed himself as an artist through diligent self study (Pyne, 1832a, pp.313–14). The trope of nature as the artist’s true teacher is a commonplace of Romantic theories, but in this case it is hard not to conclude that the idiosyncratic character of this on-the-spot sketch reflects the artist’s first taste of freedom from his master. Intriguingly, as far as Girtin’s future is concerned, the sketch includes the same stretch of the Thames seen in his famous watercolour Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea) (TG1740), and perhaps this explains the presence of the drawing in the collection of the artist’s early patron John Henderson (1764–1843) bought by a key supporter of the artist keen to understand his development.


All Saints’ Church, Fulham, from the Seven Bells, Putney



Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea)


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.