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Works Thomas Girtin

The Ruins of the Lady Chapel, near Bothal

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1346: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Ruins of the Lady Chapel, near Bothal, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 17.5 × 27.5 cm, 6 ⅞ × 10 ¹³⁄₁₆ in. Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, RI, anonymous gift (71.153.5).

Photo courtesy of Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Anonymous gift (71.153.5) (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Ruins of the Lady Chapel, near Bothal
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper
17.5 × 27.5 cm, 6 ⅞ × 10 ¹³⁄₁₆ in

‘T. Girtin’ lower centre, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Durham and Northumberland

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
293 as 'Called Valle Crucis Abbey'
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


J. Palser & Sons (stock no.13749); bought by Thomas Acland, 5 July 1912; ... Guy Daniel Harvey-Samuel (1887–1960); Fine Art Society, London, 1959; bought from them by an anonymous collector, £262 10s; presented to the Museum, 1971

Exhibition History

Fine Art Society, 1959, no.112; Rhode Island, 1972, no.42 as ’Valle Crucis Abbey’; Sacramento, 1975, no catalogue; Rhode Island, 2005, no catalogue

About this Work

The unsubstantial ruins depicted in this watercolour were tentatively identified by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) as part of Valle Crucis Abbey in North Wales, and, although this was clearly wrong, no better suggestion has until now been forthcoming (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.174). The discovery of a watercolour by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733–94) has made it possible to identify the ruins as those of the fifteenth-century Lady Chapel situated on the wooded banks of the river Wansbeck, near Bothal in Northumberland (British Library, London (Add Ms 15542, f.192)). The ancient chapel or oratory, which a contemporary writer noted as measuring ‘in length twenty-four feet, and in breadth twelve feet’, was a short walk away from the castle at Bothal, which Girtin visited in 1796 and depicted in a small watercolour (TG1089) at a slightly later date. It appears that Girtin used nearby Morpeth as a base from which to explore along the ‘beautiful and romantic river’ Wansbeck, as the same writer termed it. The chapel was clearly in a ruinous condition when Girtin visited, but, as the aforementioned source records, the remains, which ‘graced the solitude in which they were embosomed’, were soon to be ‘utterly destroyed’ along with the woods that enhanced the ‘meditative’ spirit of the location (Storer, 1816–25, vol.1, no page numbers).

As the same writer again notes, here was a location ‘equally romantic with that of the Hermitage of Warkworth’, and it was as a smaller variation on the themes developed in his two views of the hermitage (TG1096 and TG1097) that Girtin conceived this work. The rock-hewn structure is obviously very different, but the form of the wall in the foreground, together with its location – overhung and indeed almost overwhelmed by trees, with a shaft of sunlight penetrating the gloom – suggests that Girtin likewise linked the two sites. Thus, as in the Warkworth scene, the way that the sun lights up part of the ruins does nothing to dispel the pervading sense of solitude and seclusion that is established by the dark mass of trees pressing down on the ruined fragment, all of which is enhanced by the inclusion of a female figure whose pose recalls the stock image of melancholy. At least some of this effect comes from the work’s faded condition, whereby the greens have darkened noticeably, but the mood is certainly enhanced by the seated woman in white, who looks as though she has strayed from an illustration to John Milton’s (1608–74) classic meditation on the theme of ‘divinest Melancholy’, Il Penseroso (1645–46). I am certainly not suggesting that Girtin is here illustrating a poetic text, as he was to do at the evening meetings of the Sketching Society,1 but that, as with the ghostly figure that inhabits the foreground of Dryburgh Abbey viewed from the cloister (TG1121), the artist has drafted in the aid of a figure more at home in one of the many poetic descriptions of ruins from this period.

1796 - 1797

Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck



Warkworth Hermitage


1798 - 1799

Warkworth Hermitage


1797 - 1799

Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept from the Cloister


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 Details of the Society’s Laws, the names of attendees, and excerpts from the selected poems are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1799 – Item 5).

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