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Works Thomas Girtin

The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1366: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on paper, on an original washline mount, 44.9 × 53.9 cm, 17 ⅝ × 21 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper, on an original washline mount
44.9 × 53.9 cm, 17 ⅝ × 21 ¼ in

'Girtin' lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; The Midlands

The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle (TG1365)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2017


Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet of Pitsligo (1773–1828); then by descent; Sotheby's, 28 March 2017, lot 264, £9,375 as 'A Woman Seated near Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire'

About this Work

This studio watercolour, showing the Great Hall of Kenilworth Castle, is based on an on-the-spot sketch that Girtin appears to have made on the way to or on his return from North Wales in the summer of 1798 (TG1365). He had already painted two views of the ruins of the late fourteenth-century hall of John of Gaunt (1340–99) when he visited the site in person (TG0250 and TG0288). Working for the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99) around 1795, Girtin had probably based his first watercolours on sketches by the patron, and the results not surprisingly lack any of the drama displayed here. Free now to adopt any viewpoint, Girtin chose a low situation close to the overgrown wall piled up with rubble, so that we get a sense of both the monumental quality of the ruins and the fact that they have partly been reclaimed by nature. Sadly, the immersive effect, so different from the careful elaboration of architectural details seen in the view made for Moore, has lost some of its impact due to the partial fading of the watercolour. Thus, although the sky has remained intact, and the effects of the sun shining through the monumental windows still replicate the on-the-spot sketch, the greens of the vegetation have been severely compromised and the deep gloom of the foreground no longer offers a contrast of mood. The female figure – whose melancholic pose, like the equivalent form in the foreground of another set of Gothic ruins overwhelmed by vegetation (TG1346), was introduced to enhance the mood of sad reverie – seems merely out of place in a scene where the balance of light and shade has been altered for the worse.

The deterioration in the watercolour’s condition is particularly unfortunate, because although Girtin showed no great interest in the historical associations of the buildings he depicted, I am sure that the contrast between the dark foreground and the radiant distance was configured to represent, at least in general terms, the present sad and ruined state of a building closely associated with revelry and festivities in the past. The Revd Richard Warner (1763–1857), who visited the Great Hall a couple of years after Girtin, is typical of any number of tourists who dwelt at length on the

fair form of Kenilworth-Castle in its glory;
the scene of mirth and of gallantry,
Of pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With mask and antique pageantry.
(Warner, 1802, vol.2, p.226)

Beyond its medieval heyday, the Great Hall was perhaps even better known as the centre of the nineteen days of festivities that the later owner of Kenilworth Robert Dudley (1532/33–88), Earl of Leicester, organised for the visit of Elizabeth I (1533–1903) in 1575. Warner again described this in great detail, including the ultimately sad fate of the family and their property during the Civil War (Warner, 1802, vol.2, pp.225–35). Girtin almost certainly did not read such accounts and thus would not have been influenced by them when he fashioned his image, but the point is that in order to create a successful commodity, he needed to embody sentiments such as the transience of earthly pleasures and the dangers of civil strife. I suspect that if we could reverse the detrimental effect of time on this watercolour, we would see that this was what he succeeded in evoking here.

(?) 1798

The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle


(?) 1795

Kenilworth Castle: The View from the South


1794 - 1795

The Ruins of the Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle


1798 - 1799

Gothic Ruins: Said to Be Valle Crucis Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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