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Works Thomas Girtin

The Demolition of a Building, Said to Be Part of the Ruins of Old Drury Lane Theatre

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG0088: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Demolition of a Building, Said to Be Part of the Ruins of Old Drury Lane Theatre, 1794–95, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 27.3 × 17.8 cm, 10 ¾ × 7 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, Agnew's, London (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Demolition of a Building, Said to Be Part of the Ruins of Old Drury Lane Theatre
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
27.3 × 17.8 cm, 10 ¾ × 7 in

‘Part of the Ruins of Old Drury Lane Playhouse’ on an old mount

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
London and Environs; Urban Ruins

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Christie's, 21 April 1922, lot 10 as by Thomas Girtin; bought by 'Mason', £4 14s 6d; ... P & D Colnaghi & Co., 1953; H. E. Cockcroft; his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 10 March 1965, lot 71, as 'Old Drury Lane Theatre, a workman by the ruins' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by P & D Colnaghi & Co., £280; ... Sotheby’s, 16 July 1987, lot 85 as by Thomas Girtin; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £6,600

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1988, no.148 as by Thomas Girtin; Agnew’s, 1993, no.28; London, 2002, no.68

About this Work

Rebuilding the Drury Lane Theatre

An early title for the work illustrated above comes from an inscription on the back of an old mount, which reads ‘Part of the Ruins of Old Drury Lane Playhouse’, but the identification of the building under demolition as the old theatre is problematic on a number of grounds, not least because no element of the ruins tallies either with the structure or its setting. Of even greater concern is the date of the watercolour, which, from stylistic evidence, can be assigned to 1794–95, a couple of years at least after the old theatre was demolished to make way for the new building designed by Henry Holland (1745–1806) and which opened in March 1794. Of course, it is possible that the work was produced from a sketch made in 1791 and it is to be remembered that Girtin’s earliest patron, the antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), may even have commissioned views of the ruined industrial complex of the Albion Mills from his sketches (TG0105 and TG0114). There was certainly a market for modern ruins even amongst those whose primary interest was in the nation’s ancient monuments. It is also true that Girtin himself showed an interest in the theatre throughout his life, producing designs for stage sets, and, during his time as an apprentice to Edward Dayes (1763–1804), his master actually painted a fine watercolour of the new Theatre Royal at Drury Lane under construction (see figure 1). However, the building project depicted by Dayes is quite out of keeping with the domestic scale of the ruins shown here, a location indeed that even has trees nearby. Perhaps the problem lies in the word ‘ruin’, because unlike the third Drury Lane Theatre, which was destroyed by fire in 1812 and left behind a spectacular skeleton of masonry, the second building was carefully demolished. On balance, therefore, it seems that the inscription is wrong, presumably applied at a later date to an unidentified and unidentifiable ruin depicted by Girtin around 1794. Girtin’s watercolour should therefore more correctly be interpreted as reflecting his interest in the changes that were constantly modifying his native city, such as he had depicted in his views of the ruins of the Savoy (TG0367). It is as a celebration of the daily renewal of the urban fabric, rather than as a record of a spectacular project, that this unassuming watercolour works best.

The work has also been attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at various points in its history. However, although it is a good example of the close stylistic links that existed between the two artists around 1794 and the initial period of their collaborative work at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), the unpromising and unpicturesque subject marks it out as by Girtin. Turner’s contemporary consistently showed a greater interest in the city and embraced the ordinariness of such urban scenes as an opportunity to show off his artistic skills in a view with no intrinsic architectural merits.

1792 - 1793

Interior of the Albion Mills, Southwark, after the Fire


1792 - 1793

The Albion Mills, Southwark, after the Fire


1794 - 1797

Buildings in the Process of Demolition, Said to Be the Ruins of the Savoy Palace


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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