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Works Thomas Girtin

The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG1244: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury, (?) 1797, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 30.2 × 31.3 cm, 11 ⅞ × 12 ⅜ in. Leeds Art Gallery (13.117/53).

Photo courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
30.2 × 31.3 cm, 11 ⅞ × 12 ⅜ in

‘T. Girtin’ lower right in pen, by Thomas Girtin; ‘abbotsbury’ lower left in pencil, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; Picturesque Vernacular; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury (TG1245)
The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury (TG1246)
A Distant View of Guisborough Priory; The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury (TG1699)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and February 2020


Sir Henry Studdy Theobald (1847–1934); Squire Gallery, London; Agnes Lupton (1874–1950) and Norman Darnton Lupton (1875–1953); bequeathed to the Museum, 1953

Exhibition History

Squire Gallery, 1935, no.30; Bournemouth, 1949, no.29 (catalogue untraced); Manchester, 1975, no.22; London, 2002, no.86


Fleming-Williams, 1990, pp.78–79; Gerlings, 2006, p.78

About this Work

This outstanding colour sketch of the great tithe barn at Abbotsbury, the only significant survival of the Benedictine abbey, was almost certainly executed on Girtin’s West Country tour in the autumn of 1797. Girtin is documented as having been in Exeter in early November and it seems that his visit there, to sketch an interior view of the cathedral, was preceded by a journey along the Dorset coast that took in Weymouth and Lyme Regis, as well as Abbotsbury, where he produced another on-the-spot colour study of the early fifteenth-century tithe barn (TG1247) (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 The fact that Girtin coloured two views of the barn suggests that, unlike the other occasion when he made multiple on-the-spot sketches, in Weymouth (TG1240 and TG1241), he had a commission for a studio watercolour. There are in fact three works that are based on this study, two of them finished (TG1245 and TG1246) and one abandoned incomplete (TG1699). Certainly, that is the logical explanation for a visit to a site that Girtin had already depicted in a watercolour made for the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99) (TG0146), and it was his patron’s simple outline that had provided the basis for a scene that predated Girtin’s visit to Abbotsbury by five or so years (see the source image TG0146). On this occasion, Girtin adopted pretty much the same viewpoint, though the drawing concentrates more exclusively on the porch, and, with the aid of rapidly applied washes of colour, it records the weathered effect of the stone and the contrasting texture of the thatched roof, the details of which are noticeably less convincing in the earlier watercolour.

Girtin’s motive for producing such coloured sketches during his tour to the south west is clear, therefore, but there is also evidence that they came to fulfil a different function as a distinct commodity in their own right, and this is how I interpret the presence of the particularly ornate and prominent signature to the lower right of the drawing. In the opposite corner, the artist has inscribed the location of the scene, ‘Abbotsbury’, in pencil. That was Girtin’s normal practice for a sketch that he might need to refer to again in subsequent years, but the carefully executed signature only makes sense as a later addition that identifies the authorship of the sketch for a new or potential owner. I therefore suspect that what we have here is an on-the-spot colour sketch that Girtin made as an aid to the completion of a commission, but that he later found a buyer for it as an example of his much vaunted sketching skills. All of this begs the question, if the signature was inscribed later, could the colour also have been added subsequently to a simple outline drawing? This is, of course, perfectly possible, but there are a number of features that suggest that the work was indeed coloured on the spot and at some speed, not least the fact that the sheet displays clear signs that the artist was unable to control the application of his washes across areas of the thatched roof and the stonework. The use of a very limited palette of just four tones of two colours, worked wet in wet, with the artist not leaving the lighter areas to dry before applying darker highlights, again indicates that this drawing was worked with a degree of urgency in the field, and no doubt this was precisely what made it attractive to a collector who appreciated this aspect of Girtin’s working practice.

(?) 1797

Abbotsbury: The Tithe Barn, with a Pond


(?) 1797

The Market Rooms, Weymouth


(?) 1797

A Street in Weymouth


1797 - 1798

The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury


1797 - 1798

The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury


1800 - 1801

A Distant View of Guisborough Priory; The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury


1792 - 1793

The Tithe Barn at Abbotsbury, with St Catherine’s Chapel on the Hill


1792 - 1793

The Tithe Barn at Abbotsbury, with St Catherine’s Chapel on the Hill


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The financial records of the artist's brother John Girtin (1773–1821) include two loans he made to Thomas Girtin during the trip. The records are transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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