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Works Thomas Girtin

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

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG1396: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), St Paul's Cathedral, from St Martin's-le-Grand, 1795–96, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 48.8 × 37.8 cm, 19 ¼ × 14 ⅞ in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Sir Edwin Manton Gift, 2002 (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
48.8 × 37.8 cm, 19 ¼ × 14 ⅞ in
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 (TG1395)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Edmund Dorrell (1778–1857), by 1851; then by descent to William Dorrell (lent to London, 1875; London, 1877); his sale, Christie’s, 15 April 1898, lot 62; bought by 'Palser', £5; J. Palser & Sons (stock no.14966); bought by Sir Walter Prideaux (1846–1928), 11 July 1898 (lent to London, 1920); then by descent to Walter Treverbian Prideaux (1875–1958); on loan to Southampton Art Gallery from 1980–97; Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1997; private collection, USA; Thos. Agnew & Sons, 2001; bought by the Museum, 2002

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.133 as 'View of St. Paul's'; London, 1877, no.320; London, 1920, no.111; Agnew’s, 1931, no.126; Agnew’s, 1953a, no.41; on loan to Southampton City Art Gallery, 1980–97; Agnew’s, 2001, no.34; London, 2002, no.75; New York, 2003, no catalogue


Barker, 2003, p.27; Shanes, 2016a, pp.105–6; Morris, 2016, not paginated

About this Work

'View of Ludgate Street from Ludgate Hill Looking Towards the Grand West Front of St Paul's Cathedral'

This appears to be the earliest of three finished 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 still living at the time of their production (the others being TG1394 and TG1395). 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 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 and carters with their heavy working horses replace the smart carriages of Ludgate Hill, whilst a range of working men and women here predominate, in contrast to the fashionably dressed figures who stroll along the altogether more ordered pavements in Marlow’s scene. St Martin’s-le-Grand was the route favoured by the heavier trading vehicles going to and from the city’s markets, and, although the street was also the site of numerous glass-fronted shops, it 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 great care that Girtin took with his figures can also be seen in the unfinished version of the composition, which presumably predates this watercolour (TG1393) and which gives us valuable information about how the artist proceeded with the production of his studio works at this date. This is likely to have been around 1795–96, when, according to Turner’s early biographer, Walter Thornbury (1828–76), Girtin showed a version of the composition to Turner, who praised the effect, saying, ‘Girtin, no man living could do this but you’ (Thornbury, 1862, vol.2, p.36). This, Eric Shanes argued, was the inspiration for Turner’s vibrant street scene in his view of Wolverhampton shown at the Royal Academy in 1796 (Shanes, 2016a, pp.105–6). Turner’s similar image of the untidy vitality of a modern commercial centre tellingly does not feature his native London; in contrast, Girtin throughout his short career returned to depict the city with a strong sense of belonging that is nowhere better exemplified than in this composition.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a white wove drawing paper made by the Balston and Hollingworth Brothers Partnership at Turkey Mill, Maidstone, Kent (Smith, 2002b, p.101; Bower, Report). This is the same paper that Girtin used for the later view The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral (TG1020), though it came from a different batch.

1795 - 1796

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


1796 - 1797

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


1795 - 1796

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


(?) 1796

The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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