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Works Thomas Girtin

The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle

(?) 1798

Primary Image: TG1365: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle, (?) 1798, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 25 × 30.1 cm, 9 ⅞ × 11 ⅞ in. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (9070).

Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle
(?) 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
25 × 30.1 cm, 9 ⅞ × 11 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; The Midlands

The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle (TG1366)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


Raymond Carter; his sale, Sotheby's, 24 February 1960, lot 48 as 'The Ruined Abbey, a sketch'; bought by P & D Colnaghi & Co., £380; bought from them by the Gallery, 1960

Exhibition History

Colnaghi’s, 1960, no.62, catalogue not traced; Kingston, 1964, no.10

About this Work

This fine on-the-spot colour sketch, depicting the late fourteenth-century Great Hall at Kenilworth Castle, was used as the basis for a large studio watercolour of the ruins (TG1366). At the time of making his sketch, Girtin had already depicted the Great Hall in two watercolours (TG0128 and TG0250). However, although Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that the artist had visited Kenilworth on his 1794 tour of the Midland counties with his first significant patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), it now appears that these first views were actually copied from outline drawings made by Moore on his own 1789 visit. Finally visiting the Great Hall in person, Girtin would have been well aware of the significance of the structure, which was built for John of Gaunt (1340–99) between 1373 and 1380 on a truly royal scale, but presumably he felt that the sketches he had hitherto worked from were not satisfactory for his purposes as a mature artist who no longer concentrated on the antiquarian market. The actual date of Girtin’s visit to Kenilworth is not known for sure, though the most likely option is that he took in the castle either on the way to or travelling back from North Wales in the summer of 1798, when his route would have gone through the Midland counties of Warwickshire and Shropshire. This conclusion is backed up by comparisons with the on-the-spot colour sketches that the artist made on that trip, particularly the interior view The Great Hall, Conwy Castle (TG1305), which displays many of the same signs of a work done in haste. As with that work, therefore, the artist appears to have lost control of the very liquid washes of colour he employed, as he tried to capture the way that the red sandstone used in the construction of the castle had been energised by the sunlight. Likewise, the way that the rubble and vegetation that fill the ruined interior are rendered as an inchoate mass of colour resembles the Conwy view, where again there is no attempt to create a credible space, just a record of how a specific light effect plays on different surfaces.

All of this begs the question of whether Girtin went to the extra trouble of producing a sizeable colour sketch because he already had a commission ahead of his travels. This would certainly be a logical conclusion in this case, but the evidence, in general, is not overwhelming, since only half of the colour sketches he executed on the 1798 trip were actually realised as studio watercolours. I suspect, therefore, that Girtin departed from his usual practice of making a simple pencil drawing when two criteria were met: firstly, when he discovered a subject likely to attract an order, and secondly, when he encountered the composition in a suitable light or it was accompanied by a weather effect appropriate for a studio watercolour. The resulting colour sketches would then both help in the production of the finished watercolour and provide a useful guide to prospective clients, who would get a better idea of what their purchase might look like. The increase in the frequency of Girtin’s colour sketches was therefore not simply a function of an aesthetic agenda shaped by naturalism, as has been suggested by authors such as Girtin and Loshak, but was closely linked to issues of production and consumption (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.82–85).

1798 - 1799

The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle


1792 - 1793

The Great Keep, Kenilworth Castle


(?) 1795

Kenilworth Castle: The View from the South


(?) 1798

The Great Hall, Conwy Castle


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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