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Works Thomas Girtin after Paul Sandby

The South Transept, Much Wenlock Priory Church

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG0312: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), The South Transept, Much Wenlock Priory Church, 1794–95, graphite on wove paper, 15.5 × 21.5 cm, 6 ⅛ × 8 ½ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVII 29 (D36600).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: William Watts (1752–1851), after Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809), etching and engraving, 'Wenlock Abbey, Shropshire' for The Virtousi's Museum, 1 October 1778, 13 × 18.2 cm, 5 ⅛ × 7 ⅛ in. Royal Academy of Arts, London (06/1345).

Photo courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts, London (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Paul Sandby (c.1730-1809)
  • The South Transept, Much Wenlock Priory Church
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
15.5 × 21.5 cm, 6 ⅛ × 8 ½ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Shropshire View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 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.1240 as 'Ruins of abbey' by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This view of the south transept of Much Wenlock Priory Church, looking from the cloister, is one of about forty outline drawings by Girtin that came from the collection of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). These were bought at Monro’s posthumous sale by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) and consequently now form part of the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain. The majority of the drawings were made after sketches either by Girtin’s first significant patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), or his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). However, this view, and another of Dunbrody Abbey (TG0233), were copied instead from prints after the work of Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809) (see the source image above), and certainly there is no question of Girtin having visited the site himself. The copy was done freehand, rather than by tracing, and this can be affirmed by the difference in the measurements of the drawing and the print, with the outline conforming to the standard size of the Moore sketches, roughly 6 × 8 ¾ in (15.2 × 22.2 cm), rather than that of the engraving. The outlines were probably made around 1794–95, at a time when Girtin, together with Turner, was employed at Monro’s home at the Adelphi to produce watercolour versions of the outlines of John Robert Cozens (1752–97), amongst others. The precise function of Girtin’s copies after the drawings of Moore and Dayes is not so clear, however. 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, and these may have been produced with a topographical publication in mind (Wilton, 1984a, p.12). That, in itself, does not explain why Monro came to own the larger pencil copies, however. In the absence of any documentary evidence, my hunch is that rather than being commissioned by Monro, the drawings were produced by Girtin for his own use as models for possible watercolour compositions – they all depict views of subjects he could not have seen by this date – and that he subsequently sold them to his patron. The watercolour from this drawing, if it ever existed, has not been traced, but such is the uniformity of the group that we have a pretty good idea of its likely appearance. A typical example, such as Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West (TG0334), uses a limited palette of rapidly applied colour to create a sketch-like effect, which suggests that it might have been worked on the spot even though it was copied from a secondary source.

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


1795 - 1796

Kirkstall Abbey, from the North West


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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