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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG1021: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1794–95, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 27.9 × 24.8 cm, 11 × 9 ¾ in. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon (STRST : SBT 1939-25).

Photo courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon
Date
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
Dimensions
27.9 × 24.8 cm, 11 × 9 ¾ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Parish Church; The Midlands

Collection
Versions
The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon (TG1022)
The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon (TG1023)
Catalogue Number
TG1021
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2015

Provenance

Lewis Loyd (1811–91); then by descent to Captain Edward Noel Farnham Loyd (1881–1962); his sale, Christie’s, 30 April 1937, lot 57; bought by G. Douglas Thomson of the Palser Gallery, London, £84; bought from them, 1939

Bibliography

Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.210

About this Work

This is one of three watercolours showing the ancient charnel house attached to the south chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon (the others being TG1022 and TG1023). The charnel house, which was removed in 1800, was built to house the skeletons needing to be reinterred after the graves were cleared to provide more room for new burials. The largest version (TG1022) was painted for Girtin’s earliest patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99). Girtin produced more than a hundred small-scale watercolours after sketches made by Moore of the nation’s medieval ruins and Gothic monuments, and this work too may have been produced after an untraced drawing by the patron. However, its size, comparable with the cathedral views that Girtin produced for Moore from on-the-spot sketches made on his 1794 tour of the Midland counties undertaken with the patron himself, suggests that it was not produced at second hand, though Girtin’s sketch is not known to have survived. Other than the existence of the charnel house views, there is no evidence that Moore travelled to Stratford, though it would be surprising to find that Girtin had happened upon the subject himself without the guidance of Moore. The view has no particular picturesque quality to recommend it, and its attraction as a subject must have been down to the patron and his antiquarian interests. As one of the last charnel houses to survive, the example at Stratford also had the added interest of a close connection with Shakespeare, whose tomb inside the church includes a curse that references the practice of reinterment:

Good frend for Iesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst enclosed heare,
Blest be Ye man yt spares these stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones.

In contrast to the work commissioned by Moore, there is no early provenance to help sort out the relative position of the work in the sequence of the three versions of the composition. Moreover, we are not helped by the fact that none of the watercolours are dated, and only the monochrome version (TG1023) is signed. However, the more sombre and darker palette of the Moore commission suggests a slightly later date of production, and a comparison with this smaller and, in many ways, less sophisticated view may hold the key to understanding the function of the latter. Thus, the more muted colouring, which is comparable to the colouring in another square composition produced for Moore, The Gatehouse, Battle Abbey (TG0268), suggests an earlier production date, as does the far from secure perspective. In particular, the way in which the individual parts of the structure appear to bang into each other, combined with the low viewpoint, makes for an uncomfortable arrangement within the square format. Likewise, the dull, even light, lacking in any drama, as well as the crude figures, point to the likelihood that the work was executed a few years before the Moore commission, which I have dated to 1795–96. Perhaps even more significant is the extensive and high-quality pencil work, which, in contrast with the Moore view, is clearly visible across the sheet. This is partly because the washes of colour are less intense, but it is also a case of the outline drawing being overdetermined; in other words, a studio watercolour needs little more than a slight armature of lines to produce its characteristic effect, and this simply includes too much pencil work. I do not think that there is any doubt that the pencil drawing is by Girtin, but may it be that he added the washes of colour in the studio over a detailed on-the-spot sketch made in 1794? Indeed, this would account for the lack of a pencil drawing of the subject.

1795 - 1796

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

TG1022

1794 - 1795

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

TG1023

1795 - 1796

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

TG1022

1794 - 1795

The Ancient Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

TG1023

(?) 1795

The Gatehouse, Battle Abbey

TG0268

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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