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Works Thomas Girtin

The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1231: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 47.5 × 38.5 cm, 18 ¾ × 15 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.61).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
47.5 × 38.5 cm, 18 ¾ × 15 ⅛ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Exhibition Watercolour; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; The Scottish Borders

The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey (TG1230)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
187i as 'Jedburgh Abbey'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); bought from him by Chambers Hall (1786–1855), 1820, £14 14s (through John Linnell (1792–1882)); presented to the Museum, 1855

Exhibition History

(?) Royal Academy, London, 1797, no.423 or no.466 as ’View of Jedborough Abbey’; London, 1934a, no.354; London, 1953a, no.34; London, 2002, no.40


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.52; Davies, 1923, p.130; Mayne, 1949, pl.16; Hill, 1996, p.99

About this Work

Jedburgh Abbey: The West Front

This view of the west front of Jedburgh Abbey, in the Scottish Borders, is one of two versions of a composition that Girtin sketched during his tour to the area in 1796 (the other being TG1230). This is the larger of the two watercolours and, given that it has a more complex set of figures, it is likely to have been one of the two works shown at the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1797 as ‘View of Jedborourgh Abbey’ (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1797, nos.423 or 466). Together with two other northern views, Durham Cathedral, from the South West (TG0919) and York Minster, from the South West (TG1047), which have the same vertical dimension, this view of Jedburgh appears to have been commissioned by Girtin’s early patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). According to the diarist and Royal Academician Joseph Farington (1747–1821), ‘Girtins drawings 18 Inches’ sold for ‘4 guineas’, and the three watercolours of Jedburgh, Durham and York, all conforming to that dimension, were presumably amongst the more than two hundred works by various artists that were ‘framed & glazed’ for display in Monro’s home (Farington, Diary, 4 June 1797; Farington, Diary, 14 April 1797). We can be sure of the Monro provenance of the three church views because of the account of the artist John Linnell (1792–1882), who acted as intermediary in the sale of the works from the patron to Chambers Hall (1786–1855) in 1820. Linnell recorded that Hall paid £14 14s for the view of Jedburgh, which was amongst the sixty or so works by Girtin that he later presented to the British Museum (Linnell, Journal, 1817–23).1 Also amongst the framed drawings shown on the walls of Monro’s home at the Adelphi in London were a number of examples by Girtin’s contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). It was possibly here that Turner saw this view of Jedburgh, and this may have prompted him to sketch the west front from the same position when he travelled to the north later in 1797 (see figure 1). However, as this is one of more than a dozen cases of Turner taking up the exact viewing position of an earlier Girtin composition, it may have been his colleague’s lost pencil sketch that provided the inspiration.

Jedburgh is situated on one of the main routes from England, and this, combined with the picturesque location of the ruins in the village, helped to make it a popular subject with artists and patrons. Indeed, Girtin produced perhaps as many as six different compositions showing the abbey, including looking from the river (TG1233), viewed from a position above (TG1229), seen from closer to (as here) and seen from the east, as in two watercolours that were made before his 1796 tour from a sketch by his early patron James Moore (1762–99) (TG0086 and TG0104). Typically for this group, Girtin paid particular attention to the figures. In this case they include a mother and child at the cottage door, a man repairing a wheel and another dressed in a kilt. The last of these at least may have been studied from life, but the two women, with jars on their heads, would seem to be more at home in one of the Italianate landscape scenes that Girtin copied at various times (such as TG0880). The situation of the ruins at the heart of a community is conveyed not just by the figures and their picturesque home, for Girtin also carefully recorded the makeshift structure of the parish church, which was built inside the shell of the abbey left after the Reformation. Inserted into the empty west widow are two smaller lights, flanked by shutters, and above those can be seen the gable end of the temporary roof, which enclosed the parish church until the opening of the new building in 1875. As the text that accompanies the engraving after Moore’s drawing of the abbey in The Copper-Plate Magazine notes (see print after TG0104), this arrangement ‘exhibits the greatest contrast imaginable to its former splendor’, and this was no doubt the function of the tumbledown cottage, which from this angle eclipses much of the abbey’s northern flank (Walker, 1792–1802, vol.3, no.71, pl.142).

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used as a laid cartridge paper produced by an unknown English manufacturer, worked on Girtin’s favoured wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture (Smith, 2002b, p.65; Bower, Report). This was the same support that Girtin used for The Great Hall, Conwy Castle (TG1305) and Richmond, Yorkshire: The Seventeenth-Century House Known as St Nicholas (TG1062), and the latter also probably came from the Monro collection. The watercolour is in surprisingly good condition despite the fact that it spent much of its early existence framed for display on the walls of the patron’s house. Sadly, this was not reflected in the reproduction in the catalogue for the 2002 Girtin bicentenary exhibition, which managed to lose the blues from the sky and the characteristic warm tones of the stone used in the abbey’s construction, making it look like a typically faded watercolour (Smith, 2002b, p.65).

1799 - 1800

The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey


1796 - 1797

Durham Cathedral, from the South West


1796 - 1797

York Minster, from the South West


(?) 1800

Jedburgh Abbey, from the Riverbank


1797 - 1798

The Village of Jedburgh, with the Abbey Ruins


1792 - 1793

Jedburgh Abbey, from the East


1792 - 1793

Jedburgh Abbey, from the East


1800 - 1801

An Imaginary City, with Antique Buildings


1792 - 1793

Jedburgh Abbey, from the East


(?) 1798

The Great Hall, Conwy Castle


1797 - 1798

Richmond, Yorkshire: The Seventeenth-Century House Known as St Nicholas


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The relevant entries from Linnell’s journal are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1820 – Item 1).

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