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Works Thomas Girtin after James Moore

The West Front of Exeter Cathedral, and St Mary Major

1792 - 1793

Primary Image: TG0092: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after James Moore (1762–99), The West Front of Exeter Cathedral, and St Mary Major, 1792–93, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 15.6 × 22 cm, 6 ⅛ × 8 ⅝ in. Mellon Bank Collection, Pittsburgh.

Photo courtesy of Mellon Bank Collection, Pittsburgh (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: John Walker (active 1776–1802), 'after a Sketch by Jas Moore Esqr.' (James Moore (1762–99)), etching and engraving, 'Exeter' for The Copper-Plate Magazine, vol.3, no.63, pl.125, 1 March 1797, 15 × 20 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1862,0712.809).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Artist's source: James Moore (1762–99), Exeter Cathedral, 19 July 1791, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 16.7 × 21.3 cm, 6 ⅝ × 8 ⅜ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B.1975.3.650).

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 Exeter Cathedral, and St Mary Major
1792 - 1793
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
15.6 × 22 cm, 6 ⅛ × 8 ⅝ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin (the signature has been cut, suggesting that it once extended onto an original mount which has been lost)

Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print; Studio Watercolour; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
21 as 'Exeter Cathedral'; '1792'
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


James Moore (1762–99); his widow, Mary Moore (née Howett) (d.1835); bequeathed to Anne Miller (1802–90) (lent to London, 1875); bequeathed to Edward Mansel Miller (1829–1912); bequeathed to Helen Louisa Miller (1842–1915); ... Charles W. Goff; his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 15 June 1960, no.40; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £480; Hope Keith (Mrs Cecil Keith, née Wright) (1902–83); Thos. Agnew & Sons

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.54; Worthing, 1963, no.5; Agnew’s, 1984, no.31; Pittsburgh, 1990, no.23


Bury, 1967, p.16

About this Work

This view by Girtin of the west front of Exeter Cathedral from the Close was produced after a sketch made by the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99) (see source image above), and he did not visit the city himself until 1797. Girtin’s earliest patron toured the West Country in the summer of 1791 and the sketch that the watercolour is based on is dated 19 July. Girtin is documented as having worked for Moore between October 1792 and February 1793 for a fee of six shillings a day, producing small watercolours on paper generally measuring roughly 6 ½ × 8 ½ in (16.5 × 21.5 cm) as here, and in all he produced as many as seventy watercolours from his patron’s similarly sized sketches of the nation’s ancient castles and monastic ruins (Moore, Payments, 1792–93).1 At first sight a view of the west facade of the cathedral seems untypical of the subjects chosen by Moore to be realised as finished watercolours, as from his viewpoint equal prominence is given to the ancient church of St Mary Major, the tower of which appears to the right, with its east end interrupting the view of the west facade of the cathedral. Moore noted the name of the church on his drawing and for the antiquarian St Mary’s had at least as much interest as the cathedral since, prior to its construction in the eleventh century, the Saxon building was actually the city’s minster. Moore therefore presents the viewer with a contrast between the Gothic cathedral, with one of its two earlier crossing towers visible behind, and the more ancient church it replaced, albeit one that was remodelled during its time as a parish church.

Exeter Cathedral and Neighbouring Buildings

St Mary Major was demolished in 1865 and Moore’s drawing, and its watercolour versions, has consequently become an important source of information on the building’s appearance. One detail that has hitherto been overlooked suggests that the drawing, despite Moore’s best intentions, might not be entirely trustworthy. The amateur’s grasp of perspective was rudimentary at best and in this case straightforwardly incompetent as he makes the sloping left part of the cathedral’s facade look like a recessed view of the nave. And of course, because Girtin did not know the building, he repeated the error, rendering the great horizontal facade architecturally incoherent. Moore was later to take Girtin on a tour of some of the great cathedral sites in the Midlands, presumably because his own skills as an artist were not up to recording such complex structures, but he must have been happy enough with the watercolour of Exeter as he lent it to the engraver John Walker (active 1776–1802). Moore recorded the loan of the drawing in a note dated 7 December 1796 and in March of the following year an engraving was published in The Copper-Plate Magazine, where it was inscribed as being ‘after a Sketch by Jas Moore Esqr.’ (see the print after, above) (Walker, 1792–1802, vol.3). The print reproduces the complex figure group that Girtin added to the foreground of Moore’s composition and there is no doubt that, despite the inscription, it was the professional artist’s watercolour that was engraved. The engraver was in no better position to correct Moore’s faulty perspective than Girtin, however, and the misleading appearance of the facade was duly reproduced. The error is also repeated in a watercolour of the same subject by Edward Dayes (1763–1804) (see figure 1), which must also have been made from Moore’s faulty sketch. In this case the error has been compounded and it looks as though the north aisle of the nave has been totally omitted.

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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