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Works Thomas Girtin

St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1395: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand, 1796–97, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on wove paper, 47 × 38 cm, 18 ½ × 15 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on wove paper
47 × 38 cm, 18 ½ × 15 in

'Girtin' lower left, by Thomas Girtin; 'F. Girton, Toy Maker' on the sign

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
City Life and Labour; London and Environs; Street Scene

St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand (TG1393)
St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand (TG1394)
St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand (TG1396)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2015


Paul Panton (1758–1822) or Paul Panton (1727–97), Plas Gwyn, Anglesey; then by descent through the Panton and Vivian families; Chorley's, 20 May 2015, lot 507, £125,000; bought by Richard Green, London; Christie's, New York, 31 January 2019, lot 109, $225,000


Morris, 2016, not paginated

About this Work

This is almost certainly the latest of three watercolours that Girtin painted showing St Paul’s Cathedral from St Martin’s-le-Grand, the street where he spent his boyhood and where he was living at the time of their production (the others being TG1394 and TG1396). Aside from its personal association, the view was clearly popular with his early patrons, and it appears to be the first case of where Girtin was called upon to make multiple versions of a subject to satisfy the demands of the market. The production of the watercolours coincided with the publication of a print after a painting by William Marlow (1740–1813), Ludgate Hill Looking towards the Grand West Front of St Paul’s Cathedral (see TG1396 figure 1), and in many ways this version, in particular, can be seen as a response to that image. Thus, although both works follow the same basic composition, with its clear reference to the view paintings of Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697–1768), Girtin’s watercolour offers a noticeably different image of city life, as a laden wagon trundles into the city, a carter provisions a heavy horse in harness, and amongst all of the hauliers, carriers and hawkers, an escaped pig, no doubt destined for the nearby meat market at Smithfield, is rounded up by two dogs. All of this contrasts with the array of smart carriages that populate the view of Ludgate Hill, where in Marlow’s scene the fashionably dressed figures stroll along the altogether more ordered pavements.

A smattering of better-dressed figures, including two choristers from the cathedral, are to be seen in St Martin’s-le-Grand, but this was essentially a busy thoroughfare on the way to the city’s markets. Although the street was also the site of numerous glass-fronted shops, it soon gave way to an array of more humble businesses, amongst which were the premises of Girtin’s mother, ‘R. Girtin brushmaker’, at number forty-six (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.20). Rosehanna Girtin (née Townsend, unknown dates) had moved there with her three children at some point in the 1780s, after the death of her first husband, and it is hard not to see Girtin’s image of commercial vitality as a reflection of his own social milieu amongst London’s artisanal classes. Each of the three views of the street thus features a different set of figures and working animals, though they are united by a sense that they were improvised by an artist who had witnessed such scenes every day of his life and who was not therefore simply populating his topographical view with stock types. The personal association goes even further, however, for Girtin gave his address between 1794 and 1797 as 2 St Martin’s-le-Grand. Although it is possible that this marked a return, following his apprenticeship, to the family home (which had been renumbered in the interim), it is also possible that he took up a new residence in the same street, and perhaps this explains the sign to the left of this view, which appears to read ‘F. Girton, Toy Maker’. It is possible, therefore, that this image of one of the city’s greatest architectural monuments also includes a view of the artist’s residence and the location where the work itself was painted.

The case for this work being made a year or two later than the version now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is admirably summarised by Susan Morris, who points to a number of technical and stylistic details typical of the artist’s work around 1796–97. These include the employment of a rough textured cartridge paper and the abandonment of pen and ink accents in favour of a more spontaneous use of the brush, as well as a ‘warmer, more sonorous’ palette (Morris, 2016, no page numbers). The same conclusion about the relative dates of the two extant finished versions can also be arrived at by comparing the compositions. Although this is not immediately obvious, the process of overlaying images of the two works shows how the artist, whilst retaining the same proportions, changed the perspective of the buildings to the left and the immediate right, which opens up the composition, leaving the road to bend round and create an altogether more convincing space through which the laden cart moves with a proper momentum. The centre of the composition is no longer so crowded as a result, and the relatively greater sense of order spreads even to the figures, who now keep to the pavement. The heterogeneous social mix of the city is still rendered with exuberance, but it is now rather more controlled, befitting a mature artist in command of his art.

1795 - 1796

St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand


1795 - 1796

St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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