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Works Thomas Girtin

The Interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG1382: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), The Interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace, 1794–95, graphite on paper, 32.4 × 26 cm, 12 ¾ × 10 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite on paper
32.4 × 26 cm, 12 ¾ × 10 ¼ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Domestic Buildings; London and Environs

The Interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace (TG1383)
The Interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace (TG1384)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
138i as 'King John's Palace'; '1795–6'
Description Source(s)
Girtin Archive Photograph


John Hayes; his sale, Sotheby’s, 30 May 1820, possibly lot 116; ... Archdeacon Charles Parr Burney (1785–1864); then by descent to Rosetta d’Arblay Wood; then by descent to Edith Mary Burke Powell (Lady Powell, née Wood) (d.1934); Miss Burney; her sale, Sotheby's, 4 March 1943, lot 25; bought with TG1382 by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £250; Sir Stephen Lewis Courtauld (1883–1967) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954)

About this Work

This fine detailed study of the interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace, south London, looking towards the west end, has not been seen since 1943, when it appeared on the art market together with the watercolour that was produced from it (TG1383). Girtin took his view from close to the south wall in line with the hexagonal louvre that marks the midpoint of the six-bayed hall and from this position he faced the considerable challenge of recording the complex wooden structure of the hammerbeam roof. In terms of perspective, it is difficult to imagine a greater challenge and, in what for Girtin was an unusually careful and detailed drawing, the young artist succeeded on every count. The sheer quantity of detail and the assured way in which each individual form links accurately with the next might suggest that he used some form of mechanical aid, such as a camera obscura, but the size of the drawing, equivalent to the finished watercolour and too large for a camera, indicates that it was made freehand. The majority of Girtin’s architectural studies were freely executed; he was able to produce highly detailed drawings when necessary, and in this respect the drawings that the interior view at Eltham most resemble are the studies of the west fronts of Lichfield Cathedral (TG1001) and Peterborough Cathedral (TG1014), which the artist made in preparation for watercolours commissioned by James Moore (1762–99) in 1794. The labour involved in producing such detailed sketches would have been unthinkable without the incentive of a commission, and, although there is no documentary evidence that the watercolour that was executed from this drawing was ordered by Moore, it is likely that as with The Oriel Window of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace (TG0319), he was Girtin’s paymaster here. The idea that this was made as a preparation for a watercolour, rather than being a presentation drawing (which its level of detail might initially suggest), is supported by the way that areas to the right are left unfinished. The symmetrical nature of the structure means that details of the roof and its bosses, and of the window tracery, which are left barely sketched in, could be worked out from the rest of the drawing when it came to painting the studio watercolour.

It is not surprising that Moore would have wanted to acquire a record of one of the most spectacular medieval sites within the vicinity of his London base. The hall was built for Edward IV between 1475 and 1479 as part of a royal palace that for over three hundred years provided luxurious accommodation for successive monarchs. The palace was abandoned and largely demolished in the seventeenth century, leaving just the Great Hall with its magnificent hammerbeam roof to survive. The hall, measuring approximately 30 × 11 metres (100 × 36 ft), is smaller than the equivalent royal structures at Westminster and Hampton Court; however, for a diligent antiquarian like Moore, it had the added attraction of being much less well known, and its picturesque qualities were also enhanced by its current use as a barn. Girtin concentrates on capturing the architectural details in his drawing, but he does include a number of features that in the finished watercolour illustrate the building’s current lowly function – a ladder to the left, and a blank area to the right that was subsequently resolved as a pile of straw.

1796 - 1797

The Interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace


(?) 1794

The West Front of Lichfield Cathedral


(?) 1794

The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral


1794 - 1795

The Oriel Window of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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