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Works Thomas Girtin

The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1367: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and gum arabic on laid paper, 57.4 × 45.7 cm, 22 ⅝ × 18 in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour, pen and ink and gum arabic on laid paper
57.4 × 45.7 cm, 22 ⅝ × 18 in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; The Midlands

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2003


Kenneth Moss; Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1966, £850; bought by John Byng Kenrick (1911–2002); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 5 June 2003, lot 89, £7,170

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1966, no.52 as ’Kenilworth Castle’

About this Work

This grievously faded studio watercolour, showing the Great Hall of Kenilworth Castle, is closely related to another view of the ruins that is based on an on-the-spot sketch that Girtin probably made on the way to or on his return from North Wales in the summer of 1798 (TG1365). In contrast, Girtin’s first two views of the ruins of the late fourteenth-century hall of John of Gaunt (1340–99) were painted around 1795 after sketches probably made by his earliest patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99) (TG0250 and TG0288). Free now to adopt any viewpoint, Girtin chose a low situation close to the arched window so that the viewer gets a good sense of both the monumental quality of the ruins and the fact that they have been partially reclaimed by nature. Sadly, the immersive effect, so different from the careful elaboration of architectural details seen particularly in one of the views made for Moore (TG0288), has lost much of its impact, and the contrast between the gloomy foreground and the light shining through the opening in the distance – which helps in the other view to create a mood of loss in keeping with the pensive figure in the foreground – is here negated. There is a sad irony here, for in looking at such a ruin of a watercolour, it is difficult not to think about what the drawing would have looked like when it left the artist’s studio and consider its fate over time, much as the foreground figure muses on the contrast between the remains of the Great Hall and its glorious past.

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 original 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 (1533–1603) 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


1794 - 1795

The Ruins of the Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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