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Works Thomas Girtin after James Moore

Stonehenge during a Thunderstorm

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG0095: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) after James Moore (1762–99), Stonehenge during a Thunderstorm, 1792–93, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 10.4 × 14.7 cm, 4 ⅛ × 5 ¾ in. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (WA1916.8).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: James Moore (1762–99), Stonehenge, 29 June 1791, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 16.7 × 21.3 cm, 6 ⅝ × 8 ⅜ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.620).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after James Moore (1762-1799)
  • Stonehenge during a Thunderstorm
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
10.4 × 14.7 cm, 4 ⅛ × 5 ¾ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)

Object Type
Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Ancient Ruins; Wiltshire View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
73 as 'Stonehenge'; 'Late 1794'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2016


James Moore (1762–99); his widow, Mary Moore (née Howett) (d.1835); bequeathed to Anne Miller (1802–90); bequeathed to Edward Mansel Miller (1829–1912); bequeathed to Helen Louisa Miller (1842–1915); bought by the Museum, 1916

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1975, no.7; London, 2007, no.161


Mayne, 1949, p.99; Bury, 1958, p.24; Flett, 1981, pp.136–37; Brown, 1982, p.329, no.718; Smiles, 1994, pp.181–82; Zimmerman, 1997, pp.150–53; Warrell, 2015, pp.142–43; Smiles, 2017, pp.14–15;  Celeste, 2020, pp.155–56

About this Work

William Byrne (1743–1805) and Thomas Medland (1759–1833), after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), etching and engraving, 'Stone Henge' for <i>The Antiquities of Great-Britain</i>, vol.1, tailpiece, 2 February 1786, 16.6 × 28.5 cm, 6 ½ × 11 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Library.

This close-up view by Girtin of Stonehenge, illuminated by a flash of lightning, was made after a drawing by the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), and Girtin did not visit the site himself. Girtin’s earliest patron visited the ancient ruins in 1791 and he inscribed the sketch he made with the date, ‘June 29th’, and a note on the back that reads ‘a storm / distance’ (see the source image above). From these meagre resources the young artist was able to produce a powerful and dramatic image that transformed Moore’s nondescript antiquarian record into a sublime spectacle. Girtin is documented as having worked for Moore between October 1792 and February 1793 for a fee of six shillings a day, producing small watercolours on paper generally measuring roughly 6 ½ × 8 ½ in (16.5 × 21.5 cm) (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 This drawing is slightly smaller than the seventy or so works that were initially produced for Moore, and, given that the deployment of light and weather effects is also significantly more sophisticated than the bulk of the watercolours of ancient castles and monastic remains that he created for his patron, it may date from a little later. Indeed, it is just possible that the drawing was specially commissioned by Moore as a record of the original appearance of the monument, changed by the collapse of one of the central trilithons in 1797. The paired upright sarsen stones, with their horizontal lintel shown in the foreground of Girtin’s view, crashed to the ground in the winter of that year. Perhaps the flash of lightning that illuminates another of the trilithons references that event, as well as being a more general token of what Sam Smiles termed the ‘titanic struggle between the forces of nature and the vestiges of human culture’ (Smiles, 1994, p.182). Indeed, the trilithon appears to be standing only because of the support it receives from another stone behind it, something that a view by Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) shows was an illusion, resulting from the position adopted by Moore (see figure 1).

Girtin’s view of Stonehenge dramatically enhances the impact made by the scene, but in practice he had to make fewer changes to Moore’s design than was commonly the case. From a distance the stones appear insignificant on the vast open space of Salisbury Plain, but Moore’s typically close-up view, no doubt influenced by Hearne’s earlier print, provided Girtin with a composition that could convey what William Gilpin termed ‘the grandeur of the idea’ of the ruins (Gilpin, 1798, p.80). Whether the ‘storm’ noted by Moore on the back of the drawing actually occurred during his visit and he simply did not have the artistic skill to even attempt to show it, or whether it was actually an instruction to the professional artist in his employment, is impossible to say. But, whichever is the case, it provided Girtin with the second key element of his watercolour, and this in turn set the pattern for future representations of the monument transformed by dramatic weather effects, including in the work of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), whose view of Stonehenge from 1827–28 (The Salisbury Museum) is similarly lit up by lightning.

by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The document detailing the payments made to the young Girtin by Moore is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1792–93 – Item 1).

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