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Works Thomas Girtin after James Moore

The West Front of Brechin Cathedral, with the Round Tower

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG0138: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after James Moore (1762–99), The West Front of Brechin Cathedral, with the Round Tower, 1792–93, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on paper, 21.8 × 16.5 cm, 8 ⅝ × 6 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: Unknown Artist, after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), engraving, 'Brechin Cathedral' for Robert Forsyth, The Beauties of Scotland, vol.4, p.365, 1807, 8 × 11.6 cm, 3 ⅛ × 4 ⁹⁄₁₆ in. British Library, London (579 D7).

Photo courtesy of The British Library Board (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: James Moore (1762–99), Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower, 4 September 1792, graphite on wove paper, 18.1 × 22.7 cm, 7 ⅛ × 8 ¹⁵⁄₁₆ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.727).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after James Moore (1762-1799)
  • The West Front of Brechin Cathedral, with the Round Tower
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on paper
21.8 × 16.5 cm, 8 ⅝ × 6 ½ in

'Girtin' lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; Scottish View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


John Landseer (1769–1852); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 16 August 1852, lot 255; bought by 'Palser', 5s; J. Palser & Sons; Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74) (lent to London, 1862); then by descent to George Wyndham Girtin (1836–1912); then by a settlement to his sister, Mary Hog Barnard (1829–99); her sale, Christie’s, 31 May 1886, lot 56; bought by 'Murray', £17 17s; Charles Butler; then by descent to C. H. A. Butler; his sale, Christie's, 20 November 1964, lot 17; bought by P & D Colnaghi & Co., £420; private collection, New York; Christie’s, 9 November 1999, lot 2, £9,775

Exhibition History

London, 1862, no.804


Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.207

About this Work

This watercolour by Girtin showing Brechin Cathedral, with its distinctive eleventh-century round tower, was made after a drawing by the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99) (see the source image above), and Girtin himself never visited the site. Girtin’s earliest patron made an extensive tour of Scotland in the late summer of 1792 and his sketch of the west end of the partially ruined building is dated 4 September. Girtin is documented as having worked for Moore between October 1792 and February 1793 for a fee of six shillings a day, producing watercolours on paper generally measuring roughly 6 ½ × 8 ½ in (16.5 × 21.5 cm) (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 In all Girtin painted seventy or so small watercolours after Moore’s sketches, including about thirty compositions derived from drawings made on the trip to Scotland. This watercolour did not remain in the hands of Moore for long, however. It was sold at the posthumous sale of the engraver John Landseer (1769–1852) and, as a frequent collaborator with Moore in the production of engravings after his compositions, it is highly likely that Landseer received Girtin’s drawing directly from him. An engraving that was published as an illustration to Robert Forsyth’s The Beauties of Scotland (see the print after, above) is not inscribed with either the artist’s or the engraver’s name (Forsyth, 1805–8), but there is little doubt that it is based on Girtin’s upright version of Moore’s composition and that Landseer was involved in its production.

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower

Girtin generally made few changes to Moore’s compositions, typically adding a simple figure group in the foreground and inventing a lively skyscape that is not present in the original sketch. On a number of occasions, however, Girtin did cut Moore’s rather diffuse scenes, converting them to an upright format; the result here is that the west front of the church and its two contrasting towers gain a presence not evident in the amateur’s on-the-spot drawing. The round tower, in particular, benefits from Girtin’s greater mastery of perspective, rising to an impressive height of twenty-six metres (eighty-six feet). The structure, which was built around the year 1000, is one of only two round towers in Britain that were erected as watchtowers at the time of the Viking raids. Moore’s keen interest in all things antiquarian led him to seek out and sketch the other example at Abernethy, also in Scotland, and he commissioned a watercolour of that subject from Girtin as well (TG0093). Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Girtin’s master, also made a version of this composition and the smaller watercolour is dated 1797 (see figure 1). Dayes chose to follow Moore’s design more closely, with the result that the unique combination of towers makes little visual impact.

1792 - 1793

Abernethy Round Tower


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The document detailing the payments made to the young Girtin by Moore is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1792–93 – Item 1).

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