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Works Thomas Girtin

The Village of Jedburgh


Primary Image: TG1725: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The Village of Jedburgh, 1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 30.2 × 52.1 cm, 11 ⅞ × 20 ½ in. National Galleries of Scotland (D 5175).

Photo courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The Village of Jedburgh
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
30.2 × 52.1 cm, 11 ⅞ × 20 ½ in

‘Girtin 1800’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Exhibition Watercolour; Samuel William Reynolds: Dealer; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
The Country Town; The Scottish Borders; The View from Above

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins (TG1228)
The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins (TG1229)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2002


Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835) (1803 list of works disposed of: 'Jedborough' sold with four other work for £50); bought by Elizabeth Weddell (née Ramsden) (1749–1831), December 1801; bequeathed to John Charles Ramsden (1788–1836); then by descent to Sir John Frecheville Ramsden, 6th Baronet (1877–1958); his sale, Christie’s, 27 May 1932, lot 21 as 'A View of a Village Street, with hills in the background'; bought by 'Walker', £126; Walker’s Galleries, London; bought by Norman Napier Dangar (1875–1936), 300 gns; then by descent to Peter Dangar; his sale, Christie’s, 15 June 1971, lot 48; bought by the Leger Galleries, London, £17,000; Dr Marc Fitch (1908–94); the Leger Galleries, London, 1988; bought by the Gallery, 1988

Exhibition History

(?) Royal Academy, London, 1800, no.418 as ’Jedburgh’; Walker’s Galleries, 1932b, no.39; Leger Galleries, 1971, no.20; Manchester, 1975, no.65; Louisville, 1977, no.42; Leger Galleries, 1980, no.18; Leger Galleries, 1988, no.34; Edinburgh, 1991, no.79; London, 1993, no.142; Edinburgh, 1994, no.2; Edinburgh, 1999, no.70; London, 2002, no.162; Edinburgh, 2005, no.107; Ghent, 2007, no.125


Walker’s Monthly, no.57 (September 1932), p.1; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.74–76; Hardie, 1966–68, vol.2, pp.6–7; Clifford, 1973, p.15; Wilton, 1977, p.31, p.187; Mallalieu, 1976–79, vol.2, p.388; Ushenko, 1979, p.222; Campbell, 1989, pp.142–43; Herrmann, 2000, pp.41–42; Baker, 2011, p.130; Dennison, 2013, pp.294–97

About this Work

This magnificent watercolour, showing the village of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, looking north from the eminence occupied by the ruined castle, is one of two versions of a composition that Girtin sketched in 1796 (TG1228). The other, earlier watercolour (TG1229) follows the panoramic drawing very closely, showing an elevated view of the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey to the right and a view down Castle Hill to the centre of the village to the left. However, returning to the original sketch three or four years later, the artist chose to radically rework the composition, folding the paper to check the effects of various alternatives. One configuration of the folds would have reduced its scope at both sides, so that part of the nave of the abbey would have remained, whilst the street would have been cut to the left. The other option – the one Girtin adopted – cuts the composition to the right so that the abbey is omitted altogether. Crucially, this solution omits the featureless bank shown in the foreground of the original watercolour, and this has the result of engaging the viewer in a more direct manner, so that we feel we are at the top of the street looking down at the village and out at the landscape. The more immersive experience is enhanced by changes to the distribution of light and the adoption of a more unified palette, which, together with an extensive use of wisps of smoke drifting from the chimneys, strengthens the links between the village and the surrounding landscape. All of this resulted in what Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought was one of the ‘greatest of all Girtin watercolours’; though I am not about to argue with that analysis, it may be that their view is somewhat overstated, prompted by the fact that this is a great improvement on a composition that, in its original form, was arguably a failed experiment in the panoramic mode (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.74–76).

Girtin and Loshak justify their claims for the exceptional status of the work with a highly sophisticated formal analysis of a composition that they sum up as a ‘marvellous synthesis of two- and three-dimensional design’ that anticipates some ‘of the late masterpieces of Turner’. Explanations of the cognitive richness of great works of art have, for good reason, gone out of fashion, and in any case I am ill-equipped as a writer to add my own appreciation of the work’s aesthetic pleasures. However, Girtin and Loshak go on to talk about another of the work’s claims to fame, and one in which I have more interest, what they term the ‘dissolution of the eighteenth-century Topographical vision’. For, as the authors rightly argue, the omission of the abbey really does feel significant as part of a shift from a subject-orientated landscape art, based on the exploration of locality, to a more universal concept of nature that can be manipulated to evoke a complex set of associations. Girtin and Loshak were happy to use the term ‘Romantic landscapist’ to describe the way they felt that Girtin inscribed his ‘personal feelings’ on the work, but, given that I think we need to know more about the artist’s intentions in order to make such observations, other than a desire to make commodities that sold, I read the significance of the ‘dissolution … of the Topographical vision’ in a different way. The crucial factor for me is that the watercolour is one of two views of Jedburgh (the other being TG1724) that were bought by the early collector of Girtin’s work Elizabeth Weddell (1749–1831) (Smith, 2002a, pp.166–67; Morris, 2002a, p.257). They are part of a group of five late compositions that she acquired in December 1801 for £50 from Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer (Reynolds, Letter, 1803).1 Given that the work is an elevated view of a modest village, isolated from its sole distinguishing topographical feature, there is a good chance that Weddell had no idea of the view’s location. The point is that the artist had nothing to fall back on other than his skill in transforming the mundane into something that might evoke sufficient meaning for an unknown collector, such that they were willing to pay good money to own it.

The authors of a recent book titled Painting the Town: Scottish Urban History in Art (Dennison, 2013) offer another reading of the work that seems even more remote from the interests of collectors such as Elizabeth Weddell. Picturesque tropes such as the irregular roofs of thatch or turf, the livestock roaming freely and the rough common areas that confine the town’s main thoroughfare to a mean track all bespeak, they argue, of an air of neglect that hit the Border towns following the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 and the introduction of punitive taxes. Centuries of conflict had in any case limited the town’s development and at the time of Girtin’s visit the decline of its traditional industries contributed to a degree of poverty and neglect that was rare in comparable market towns south of the border. Typically for the region, the parish church had been set up in the ruins of the nave of the abbey and the only building in Girtin’s view which does not betray signs of neglect is the steeple recently added to the Newgate, the rebuilt toll booth that symbolises the cause of the town’s decline. The authors of Scottish Urban History in Art are alive to the possibility that Girtin enhanced the air of picturesque disrepair for ‘artistic effect’, but nonetheless the work is still admissible, they argue, as evidence of a Border town suffering an economic downturn that would not relent for at least another generation (Dennison, 2013, p.296).

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid wrapping paper by an unknown English manufacturer, noting that it employs a writing paper mould to produce a low-grade wrapping (Smith, 2002b, p.213; Bower, Report).

(?) 1796

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins


1797 - 1798

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins


1800 - 1801

Jedburgh Abbey, from the South East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The letter detailing the sales of Girtin’s works by Reynolds is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1803 – Item 3).

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