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Works Thomas Girtin

The Gatehouse, Battle Abbey

(?) 1795

Primary Image: TG0268: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Gatehouse, Battle Abbey, (?) 1795, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 27.5 × 23.5 cm, 10 ⅞ × 9 ¼ in. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007 (2007.8.84).

Photo courtesy of The Clark Art Institute, Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007 (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Gatehouse, Battle Abbey
(?) 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
27.5 × 23.5 cm, 10 ⅞ × 9 ¼ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Town and Domestic Fortifications; Sussex View

The Gatehouse, Battle Abbey (TG0277a)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 1998


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 Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 1912, £15; sold through the Leicester Galleries, London, August 1912, £47 5s; Willam Cleverley Alexander (1840–1916); then by descent to the Misses R. F. and J. I. Alexander; Sotheby’s, 16 July 1998, lot 12; bought by Spink-Leger Pictures, £14,950; bought by Sir Edwin Alfred Grenville Manton (1909–2005), 1999; Manton Family Art Foundation, 2005-07; presented to the Institute, 2007

Exhibition History

London, 1912, no.31; Spink-Leger, London, 1998, no.16


Wilton, 2001, pp.89–90; Clarke, 2012, no.139, p.34, p.178, p.265; Gardiner, 2013, pp.71–75

About this Work

This watercolour of the fourteenth-century gatehouse of Battle Abbey in Sussex, seen from with the walls of the precinct, was made for Girtin’s first significant patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), and it was based on a pencil drawing that was in all likelihood copied from one of his sketches (TG0277). Moore’s untraced drawing was probably made in the summer of 1795 and it is highly unlikely that Girtin himself visited the site – something, indeed, that explains the problems he had with the perspective of the building on the right-hand side. Working from a slightly different angle, Michael Rooker (1746–1801) shows how the right door is built out from the turret (see TG0277 figure 1), whilst Girtin is thoroughly confused by the more oblique angle chosen by Moore and shows part of it flush with the turret, and the rest is fudged so that the wall and buttress, coming out at right angles from the main structure, appear to be octagonal in form like the turret above. Basic cognitive errors such as these are a sure sign that a work has been copied from the sketch of an amateur artist whose skill in the art of perspective is limited, and it is inconceivable that Girtin would have made mistakes if he had studied the subject at first hand.

The thinking behind Moore’s commission is spelt out in the text that accompanies the earlier illustration of the gatehouse that he included in his Monastic Remains and Ancient Castles in England and Wales. The ‘magnificent gateway’ may appear substantial, he wrote, but ‘it has suffered much from the want of repair within the last seven years: half the roof is already fallen in, and one of the towers inclines from its perpendicular’, and visitors were advised to make sure that their visit was ‘an early one’ as parts of the abbey ruins were ‘not likely to stand another winter’ (Moore, 1792, p.18). The popularity of views of the abbey gatehouse at this date stemmed not just from a concern about the building’s future, however. In addition to Rooker, Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), Thomas Richard Underwood (1772–1836) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) produced contemporary watercolours of a building that combines significant historical associations with real architectural merit (Gardiner, 2013, pp.71–75). The irony implicit in Girtin’s view after Moore’s basic record is that whilst he could convey little of the historical associations, the antiquarian’s idiosyncratic choice of viewpoint worked against attempts to record the full beauty of the building’s architecture as well.

(?) 1795

The Gatehouse, Battle Abbey


(?) 1795

The Gatehouse, Battle Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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