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Works (?) Thomas Girtin after (?) Samuel Wale

The West Front of Westminster Abbey

1790 - 1791

Print after: Charles Taylor (1756–1828), after (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), engraving, 'West Front of Westminster Abbey' for The Temple of Taste, no.10, 1 August 1795, 12.5 cm, 4 ⅞ in. Reprinted in The Public Edifices of the British Metropolis, no.5, 1820. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Library.

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art (Public Domain)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) Samuel Wale (1720-1786)
  • The West Front of Westminster Abbey
1790 - 1791
Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; London Architecture

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
The original known only from the print

About this Work

Thomas Simpson (c.1742–1808), after Samuel Wale (1720–86), etching, 'The Abby Church of S<sup>t</sup>. Peter's, Westminster', 1766, 9.2 × 14.7 cm, 3 5/8 × 5 3/4 in. British Museum, London (1978,U.3587).

This was the tenth architectural subject to be published by Charles Taylor (1756–1823) in his periodical The Temple of Taste, and, like the subsequent views, the original drawing has not been identified. However, as with works such as The Monument (TG0030) and The East Front of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden (TG0036), it is likely to have been executed by a very young Girtin whilst still apprenticed to Edward Dayes (1763–1804). The simple composition, with the west facade shown front on, may have been copied from any number of different sources. A painting by Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697–1768), Westminster Abbey with a Procession of the Knights of the Order of the Bath (The Dean and Chapter of Westminster), similarly includes a view of St Margaret’s, Westminster, to the left, but a more likely source lies in the rather crude prints published after artists such as Samuel Wale (1720–86) (see figure 1). An etching after his drawing from 1766 is the sort of composition that Taylor’s draughtsmen looked to, though they added more accurate architectural details. In contrast, a drawing by Dayes of the same view, dated 1795 (sold at Sotheby’s, 11 July 1985, lot 130), carefully attends to the perspective of the view and consequently departs from the conventions of the architectural elevation. It clearly did not provide the artist of Taylor’s view with a model, therefore.

Taylor was primarily interested in London’s recent architecture and specifically those buildings that adopted the classical style following the pioneering work of Inigo Jones (1573–1652) in the 1620s. And, tellingly, the text accompanying this depiction of the west front of Westminster Abbey concentrates on the part that was not built in the Gothic period, the two west towers. These were begun in 1735 and completed in 1745 to the designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661–1736), and not Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723), as Taylor erroneously suggests.

1790 - 1791

The Monument


1792 - 1793

The East Front of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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