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Works Thomas Girtin after Thomas Hearne

The Gatehouse, Bury St Edmunds Abbey

(?) 1795

Primary Image: TG0866: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), The Gatehouse, Bury St Edmunds Abbey, (?) 1795, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 18.6 × 25.2 cm, 7 ⅜ × 9 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1878,1228.22).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Artist's source: William Byrne (1743–1805) and Samuel Middiman (1751–1831), after Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), etching and engraving, 'The Abbey Gate, St Edmunds Bury' for The Antiquities of Great-Britain, vol.1, pl.19, 2 August 1778, 18.4 × 25.4 cm, 7 ¼ × 10 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Library.

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Thomas Hearne (1744-1817)
  • The Gatehouse, Bury St Edmunds Abbey
(?) 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
18.6 × 25.2 cm, 7 ⅜ × 9 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
East Anglia: Norfolk and Suffolk; Gothic Architecture: Town and Domestic Fortifications

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
57 as 'Gate of St. Edmund's Abbey, Suffolk'; '1793'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Henderson (1764–1843); then by descent to John Henderson II (1797–1878) (lent to London, 1875); bequeathed to the Museum, 1878

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.136 as 'Gate of St. Edmunds Bury Abbey ... After Hearne'


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.86

About this Work

This view of the gatehouse leading to the courtyard of the abbey at Bury St Edmunds was copied from an engraving (see the source image above) that in turn was taken from a watercolour by Thomas Hearne (1744–1817), and it therefore shows a scene in East Anglia that Girtin was never to visit. The watercolour was commissioned by one of Girtin’s most important early patrons, the amateur artist and collector John Henderson (1764–1843), and the engraving on which the watercolour is based was presumably also from his collection. Henderson commissioned three other watercolour copies after engravings from Hearne’s outstanding collection of antiquarian subjects, Antiquities of Great-Britain (Hearne, 1786–1807), including the views Ripon Minster, from the River Skell (TG0865), Melrose Abbey: The View to the South Transept (TG0868) and Lanercost Priory Church (TG0867). Together, the drawings form a distinctive and coherent group, with each copy measuring the same size as its model and the two horizontal compositions balancing the two in a vertical format. Henderson’s patronage of Girtin largely took the form of commissioning watercolours from works that he only owned as prints or outline drawings and sketches, and in this respect it resembled the labours that the young artist undertook with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the home of his other great patron of the mid-1790s, Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). The emphasis was placed squarely on the production in bulk of faithful, if unimaginative, versions of the original material, and this watercolour is typical in following its model very closely, including the same figures, though the woman and dog to the left of the print are excluded. The four watercolours produced after Hearne’s prints are all in the collection of the British Museum as a result of the bequest of Henderson’s son, and it is consequently possible to place the drawings next to each other and appreciate the degree of unity across the group. Each employs the same simple palette of colours laid over a uniform tone of grey for the shadows, and it is easy to imagine Girtin working on all four simultaneously, adding the same tone to each of the drawings in turn.

None of the numerous copies produced by Girtin for Henderson are dated, but they generally seem to have been made around 1795–96. The small scale of the watercolours executed after the Hearne prints, the insecure perspective of the buildings, the limited palette and the retention of a number of old-fashioned stylistic features that originated in Girtin’s work as an apprentice to Edward Dayes (1763–1804) all suggest that they were amongst the earliest works made for Henderson, and they noticeably lack the sophisticated use of line that marks many of Girtin’s later commissions. The production of watercolour copies of engravings might be thought to have been little more than hack work for a talented young artist, the earlier date of their production suggests that Girtin still had something to learn from copying Hearne’s compositions. Hearne was after all the most adept of the older generation of topographical artists at producing images that balanced the needs of the antiquarian market with the desires of customers whose interest tended more towards landscape watercolours. It is not surprising to see, therefore, that when Girtin came to depict views of the great monastic sites he encountered on his travels, he chose viewpoints that owed something to Hearne’s example, as in St Albans Abbey: The West Porch (TG1036).

(?) 1795

Ripon Minster, from the River Skell


(?) 1795

Melrose Abbey: The View to the South Transept


(?) 1795

Lanercost Priory Church: An Interior View of the Ruins from the South Transept


1798 - 1799

St Albans Abbey: The West Porch


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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