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Works Thomas Girtin after Paul Sandby

The Ruined West Front of Dunbrody Abbey Church, County Wexford, Ireland

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG0233: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), The Ruined West Front of Dunbrody Abbey Church, County Wexford, Ireland, 1794–95, graphite on wove paper, 21.7 × 14 cm, 8 ½ × 5 ½ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVII 17 (D36588).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: William Ellis (1756–1810), after Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), etching and engraving, 'Dunbroady Abbey, in the County of Wexford' for The Virtuosi's Museum, pl.41, 1 March 1779, 15.8 × 19.8 cm, 6 ¼ × 7 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1870,1008.549).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Paul Sandby (c.1730-1809)
  • The Ruined West Front of Dunbrody Abbey Church, County Wexford, Ireland
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
21.7 × 14 cm, 8 ½ × 5 ½ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1239 as 'Window of ruined abbey' by Thomas Girtin; Wilton, 1984a, p.14

About this Work

This pencil drawing of the ruined west front of Dunbrody Abbey in Ireland is one of about forty outline drawings by Girtin that came from the collection of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) and that are now in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain. The majority of the drawings were made after sketches by Girtin’s first significant patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), but this view, and another of Much Wenlock Priory (TG0312), were instead copied from compositions by Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809) (see the source image above); certainly, there is no question of Girtin having visited the site himself. In general Girtin followed his source material closely, but, working from an earlier print, he perhaps felt free to cut the composition right and left to form an upright view, and he also compressed the building so that it appears taller and thinner. The purpose of the exercise for Girtin was to add another antiquarian subject to his repertoire for use in the production of watercolours and he therefore omitted the foreground. It is strictly a utilitarian record, therefore, devoid of any fancy pencil work, and as such it verges on the crude, as Andrew Wilton has pointed out (Wilton, 1984a, p.14). It is possible in this instance, however, that the carelessness of Girtin’s touch was the result of him having to work at one further remove. A drawing titled ‘Dunbroady Abbey’ by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), was recorded as being sold from Monro’s collection (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 20 May 1800, lot 63), and it is possible that this was the basis for Girtin’s sketch as Dayes too did not visit Ireland and presumably he also made his composition after Sandby’s print. Indeed, a small watercolour (21 x 13.9 cm) signed by Dayes and dated 1791 appeared on the art market in 2022 1 and given its size and upright format it must now be considered the likeliest source for Girtin’s drawing.

Outline drawings such as this example were probably made around 1794–95, at a time when Girtin, together with his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), was employed at Monro’s home at the Adelphi to produce watercolour versions of the outlines of John Robert Cozens (1752–97), amongst others. A significant number were used as the basis for small watercolours painted on card, measuring roughly 3 × 4 ¾ in (7.6 × 12.1 cm), including fifteen or so that found a home in the Turner Bequest after being purchased at Monro’s posthumous sale by Turner himself. In all over sixty ‘Coloured Drawings on Cards’ were sold listed in various sales from the collection (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 7 May 1808, lots 60 and 61; Christie’s, 26 June 1833, lots 80–83), though the watercolour from this drawing, if it ever existed, has not been traced.

The attribution of the pencil outlines in the Turner Bequest was a matter of considerable confusion until the publication of Andrew Wilton’s cogently argued article on the Monro School in 1984 (Wilton, 1984a, pp.9–10). Initially, Alexander Finberg, the first cataloguer of the bequest, ascribed the outlines to Girtin but thought that they were made on the spot (Finberg, 1913). Charles F. Bell, in turn, recognised that the drawings were copies, but suggested that they were made by George Isham Parkyns (c.1749–1824) in relation to his work on Moore’s Monastic Remains and Ancient Castles in England and Wales (1792) (Bell, 1915–17, pp.60–66). Then in 1938 Bell changed his mind and switched the attribution to Dayes, citing a letter from Turner in which he stated his opinion that the drawings he had bought from Monro’s sale had been produced by Girtin’s master (Bell, 1938–39, pp.97–103). Finally, Wilton’s article seems to have settled the argument, and I for one have no doubts about the attribution to Girtin of the set of drawings.

1794 - 1795

The South Transept, Much Wenlock Priory Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Hanson's, 27 June 2022, lot 181.

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