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Works Thomas Girtin

The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral

(?) 1794

Primary Image: TG1016: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral, (?) 1794, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 36.3 × 26.1 cm, 14 ¼ × 10 ¼ in. Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (1903P28).

Photo courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral
(?) 1794
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
36.3 × 26.1 cm, 14 ¼ × 10 ¼ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Cambridgeshire; Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View

The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral (TG1017)
The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral (TG1018)
The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral (TG1019)
The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral (TG1020)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and April 2024


Jane E. Barber; presented to the Museum by her heirs, 1903

Exhibition History

London, 2002, no.71

About this Work

This monochrome sketch, which was discovered in the collection of Birmingham City Art Gallery with an incorrect attribution to Joseph Barber (1757–1811), was first published as by Girtin in the catalogue of the 2002 bicentenary exhibition at Tate Britain (Smith, 2002b, p.98). The drawing, which complements the detailed pencil sketch (TG1014) that Girtin made on the spot during his visit to Peterborough in the summer of 1794 in the company of his patron James Moore (1762–99), provides important evidence of the artist’s working practice at this date. Whether or not it too was made on the spot is not entirely clear, however. Moore took Girtin with him on his tour of the most important Gothic buildings in the Midlands so that he could make accurate and detailed pencil drawings from which he might produce a series of watercolours for the patron, including a signed and dated version of this composition (TG1017). But it is still possible that this sketch was made later in the studio and that it is a full size study for a finished work that was regarded by the artist as of sufficient importance as to merit the production of a model to try out the composition. Moore’s commission does indeed follow the general pattern of light and shade depicted here, but Girtin also made monochrome sketches on the spot at this date (such as TG1105), and the use of simple washes over an outline drawing was an effective way of recording the play of light on a complex surface, with the areas of grey representing the shade and the white paper left untouched elsewhere to indicate sunlight. In this case, the rapid application of just the one tone, combined with the way that the artist barely has control of the very liquid washes, suggests on balance that the sketch was indeed worked on the spot. It was therefore executed with the aim of capturing a particular light effect, the late afternoon sun, that Girtin presumably felt was right for a finished watercolour. This could not have been possible in an outline drawing, which simply records the details of the architecture, and I suspect that the particular viewpoint that Girtin adopted, with the deep recesses of the porch opening out from the giant arches that make the Peterborough facade so unusual, meant that the artist needed to supplement his pencil work with a different kind of on-the-spot sketch.

(?) 1794

The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral



The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral


(?) 1796

Lindisfarne: An Interior View of the Ruins of the Priory Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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