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Works (?) James Moore and (?) Thomas Girtin

The Refectory, St Martin’s Priory, Dover

(?) 1795

Primary Image: TG0341: (?) James Moore (1762–99) and (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Refectory, St Martin's Priory, Dover, (?) 1795, graphite on wove paper, 23.7 × 18.7 cm, 9 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 7 ¼ in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, Gilbert Davis Collection (59.55.594).

Photo courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, Gilbert Davis Collection (All Rights Reserved)

(?) James Moore (1762-1799) and (?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Refectory, St Martin’s Priory, Dover
(?) 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
23.7 × 18.7 cm, 9 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 7 ¼ in

‘Dover’ lower left, by (?) James Moore

Object Type
Collaborations; Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Dover and Kent; Monastic Remains

The Refectory, St Martin’s Priory, Dover (TG0298)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
231 as 'Dover Priory'; 'Water-Colour'; 'c. 1797–8' by Thomas Girtin
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


P & D Colnaghi & Co., 1948; Gilbert Davis (1899–1983); bought from him by the Gallery, 1959

Exhibition History

Fine Art Society, 1944a, no.29, £26 5s as 'From C. Stokes Collection'

About this Work

This pencil drawing, like a near identical version in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (TG0298), shows the only surviving part of St Martin’s Priory in Dover: the mid-twelfth-century refectory. Unfortunately, only that much is simple, and the attribution of the two versions is highly problematic since, as with the two watercolours of the interior of the Great Hall at Eltham Palace (TG1383 and TG1384), one is attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) by its owner and the other is given to Girtin. The specific problem with this pair is that it is not just the architecture and its details that are repeated in both drawings, but the variable elements such as the carts and the cow are in exactly the same position. Given that it is not possible for the two artists to have sat next to each other and happened upon the same temporary alignment of staffage, one must be a copy of the other. Therefore, in addition to the problem of attribution, it is also essential that we work out which drawing is the copy, and by extension the function that each performed.

A reasonable starting point is to overlay the two images to test whether one was traced from the other. The results are intriguing, because whilst there is a considerable degree of congruence between the two images, particularly to the right of the composition, this is not true of the left side, where in the Philadelphia drawing (TG0298) the buttress has been moved in so that the building appears narrower. Looking at the surviving building in Dover, it is clear that the Philadelphia drawing is more faithful to its appearance, and in normal circumstances this would suggest that it was the drawing made on the spot. However, in this case what appears to have happened is that the artist of this sheet, now in the Huntington Art Gallery, took the original drawing with the faulty perspective and inaccurate proportions; traced or copied those parts that work; and corrected the image to the left. Ironically, the artist also introduced a new problem since he miscopied the rear of the two carts in the lean-to, so that the structure now occupies an illogical space: the process of narrowing it left insufficient room for the staffage depicted in the otherwise improved representation of the building.

What we have here, I contend, is a working hypothesis that does not depend on deciphering the minute, or non-existent, differences in the hands of Girtin and Turner as draughtsmen at this date. I suggest that this drawing is the original and that its shortcomings can be accounted for by the fact that it was actually begun on the spot by Girtin’s first significant patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99). I further contend that, as was commonly the case at this date, Girtin then worked over and elaborated it, strengthening the patron’s weak outlines and perhaps adding the carts and the cow to indicate that the building was used as a barn. This would have been undertaken sometime after Moore’s trip to Kent and Sussex in 1795, as there is no evidence that Girtin ever travelled to Dover. Not having visited the site himself, the artist had no alternative but to accept Moore’s poor perspective, with the result that the image of the building, even after the professional’s improvements, still appears too wide and squat in its proportions. It is a fair assumption, therefore, that Girtin chose to execute a second drawing to correct the faults in Moore’s drawing and that he traced part of the composition whilst reconfiguring the defective area. Turner, it is true, did visit Dover and he even depicted the interior of the refectory of St Martin’s Priory in a finished watercolour from about 1793 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London (P.25–1934)), but it is not possible to envisage a scenario wherein he would have produced two such similar drawings whereas, in comparison, careful replication was an integral and common part of Girtin’s working practice at this date. My increasingly confident conclusion therefore is that both drawings can be at least partly attributed to Girtin, and that placing them in the context of his work for Moore is the key to understanding their function, rather than relying on a stylistic comparison with the drawings of Turner, who I have no reason to think was involved in the production of either.

Image Overlay

(?) 1795

The Refectory, St Martin’s Priory, Dover


1796 - 1797

The Interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace


1794 - 1795

The Interior of the Great Hall of Eltham Palace


(?) 1795

The Refectory, St Martin’s Priory, Dover


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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