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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ruined Chancel, Netley Abbey

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG0354: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ruined Chancel, Netley Abbey, (?) 1797, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 19.8 × 27 cm, 7 ¾ × 10 ⅝ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1924.75).

Photo courtesy of The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Photo by Michael Pollard (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Ruined Chancel, Netley Abbey
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
19.8 × 27 cm, 7 ¾ × 10 ⅝ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Hampshire View; Monastic Ruins

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
179 as 'Tintern Abbey'; '1796–7'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and February 2020


Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831); then by descent; Christie’s, 29 May 1873, lot 77 as 'Tintern Abbey'; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £39 18s (stock no.2108); bought by Henry Tootal Broadhurst, 16 June 1873, £41 18s; then by descent to Edward Tootal Broadhurst (1858–1922); bequeathed to the Gallery, 1924


Mayne, 1949, p.66; Flett, 1981, p.140; Greene, 2005, p.201; Nugent, 2003, p.133

About this Work

James Storer (1771–1853), after Francis Nicholson (1753–1844), 'after a sketch by the late E Dayes' (Edward Dayes (1763–1804)), etching and engraving, 'Netley Abbey' for <i>The Beauties of England and Wales</i>, 1805, 14.9 × 10.5 cm, 5 ⅞ × 4 ⅛ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Until the recent discovery of what appears to be an on-the-spot drawing of Southampton taken from the path leading to the abbey church of Netley in Hampshire (TG1234a), it was assumed that Girtin had not visited the site and that this view of the ruined chancel seen from the crossing was made after an image sketched by another artist. The most likely candidate for this hypothesis was Girtin’s first significant patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), from whose sketches Girtin was commissioned to make more than seventy finished watercolours. Moore visited Netley in 1791 and made four sketches of the ruins all dated 28 August (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1975.3.558–561)), but none of them relate to this drawing. It is certainly possible that Girtin worked from an untraced drawing by Moore, but, given that the watercolour was never part of the patron’s collection, it also makes sense to look at the work of Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), for a source. The engraving, subtitled ‘View towards the East from the Transept’ (see figure 1) and described in the credit line of the print as being ‘after a sketch’ by Dayes, is close and contains all of the elements that distinguish Girtin’s view, but it is again surely not the source.

The discovery of the pencil sketch of Southampton (TG1234a), which had hitherto been attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), offers up a different possible scenario, albeit one that still has a number of problems. If this view of nearby Netley was worked up from an untraced sketch made on the spot by Girtin, then in all probability he would have visited the site on the outward leg of his tour to the West Country in 1797. Initially, I dated Girtin’s watercolour of Netley to around 1795, both on stylistic grounds and because this date fitted the assumption that it was made after the work of another artist. The question is whether or not a date from a couple of years later is still tenable stylistically, and, although I am happy to be persuaded either way, on balance I currently favour the idea that the work was produced subsequent to a visit to the famous ruins and that Girtin was swayed to choose Netley as a subject by its topicality. Certainly, Moore and Dayes were not the only artists to visit the ‘beautiful remains’ of Netley to record the ‘melancholy picture of desolation’. As Moore noted, ‘no ruin in this kingdom has had so many fashionable visitors … or has employed the pencils of so many artists (Moore, 1792, pp.49–50). Moore’s comments were surprisingly prescient, since, as Patrick Conner has pointed out, the next two years were to see a production of a new ‘operatic farce’ at Covent Garden titled Netley Abbey, the exhibition by Michael Rooker (1746–1801) of a watercolour of the abbey ruins at the 1795 Royal Academy, and the anonymous publication of Netley Abbey, a Gothic Story in the same year (Conner, 1984, pp.128–29). Could it be that Girtin was encouraged to visit the one set of monastic ruins in the south that enjoyed something of the reputation of the monuments that he had visited on his northern tour the year before, and did he do so with an eye on the art market? And might this too account for the work’s rather old-fashioned feel?

(?) 1797

A Distant View of Southampton


(?) 1797

A Distant View of Southampton


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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