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Works Thomas Girtin after William Smith Hesleden

The West Front of the Gatehouse of Thornton Abbey

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG1032: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after William Smith Hesleden (c.1774–1854), The West Front of the Gatehouse of Thornton Abbey, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 19.7 × 26.9 cm, 7 ¾ × 10 ⅝ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (PD.52-1966).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

Print after: Bartholomew Howlett (1767–1827), after Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), 'from a Sketch by Wm. S. Hesleden, Esq.r' (William Smith Hesleden (c.1774–1854)), etching and engraving, 'West View of Thornton Abbey' for A Selection of Views in the County of Lincoln, 3 July 1798, 27.5 × 38.5 cm, 10 ⅞ × 15 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1878,1214.526).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after William Smith Hesleden (c.1774-1854)
  • The West Front of the Gatehouse of Thornton Abbey
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
19.7 × 26.9 cm, 7 ¾ × 10 ⅝ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Part of
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Town and Domestic Fortifications; Lincolnshire

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Bought, 1966

Exhibition History

Cambridge, 1975b, no.47; Cambridge, 1994, p.58 as ’The West view of Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire’

About this Work

This view of the west front of the gatehouse of Thornton Abbey in Lincolnshire was engraved in 1798 by Bartholomew Howlett (1767–1827) for his publication A Selection of Views in the County of Lincoln (see print after TG1032) (Howlett, 1805). Girtin visited Lincolnshire in 1794 in the company of his earliest patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99), and two of the views of Lincoln that he made for his patron after his own on-the-spot sketches were included by Howlett in Views in the County of Lincoln (TG1008 and TG1010). Many of the remaining eight views that were engraved after Girtin’s Lincolnshire scenes were made from sketches taken by other artists, including the amateur William Hesledon (c.1774–1854), who is credited on the print as providing Girtin with the source for this image. It was a common practice amongst publishers of topographical collections targeted at the antiquarian market to petition local amateur artists for material and then employ a professional artist to render it in a suitable form for engraving. Hesledon, who lived in nearby Barton-upon-Humber, was an antiquarian and as a competent amateur artist was trusted to produce a reasonably accurate representation of the building from which Girtin could fashion his own small watercolour. It was presumably the professional who improvised the picturesque landscape foreground and the fine skyscape. Girtin produced a second similarly sized view of the gatehouse to Thornton Abbey (TG1033), showing the less ornate east front, and this too was engraved by Howlett, and published in 1798. Some of Girtin’s Lincoln views, such as Louth Church (TG1029), were produced for local patrons and lent to the publisher for engraving, but the smaller views of Thornton were presumably commissioned by Howlett for reproduction, and not surprisingly they do not rate amongst the artist’s most exciting performances.

Howlett’s Views in the County of Lincoln is typical of the numerous topographical publications of the period that assembled, often over a long period (in this case 1797–1805), a collection of engravings of modest size and decent competency with a brief text for each. The text was published at the end of the run, allowing the subscribers, who had paid three shillings for each of its twenty-five numbers, to have the material bound together in book form. Girtin’s contributions to the publication, like those of his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) and the ten or so other professional artists who were involved, were a mix of original compositions, works produced from the sketches of amateurs, small-scale drawings commissioned by the publisher and larger compositions lent by patrons of the arts. The spectacular fourteenth-century brick gatehouse of Thornton Abbey, the only important part of the foundation left after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, is typical of the subjects covered in the publication. Of some architectural importance, it still required the assistance of the professional artist to add enough picturesque incident to attract interest beyond the narrow circle of antiquarians who alone might have been thrilled by what the text refers to as its curious mix of ‘offensive and defensive’ elements.

1796 - 1797

The West Front of the Gatehouse of Thornton Abbey



Lincoln Cathedral, from the West


1794 - 1795

Lincoln, from the Brayford Pool


1796 - 1797

The East Front of the Gatehouse of Thornton Abbey


1795 - 1796

Louth Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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