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Works Thomas Girtin after (?) Samuel Ireland

Tintern Abbey, from the River Wye

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG0343: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after (?) Samuel Ireland (1744–1800), Tintern Abbey, from the River Wye, (?) 1797, graphite and watercolour on paper, 11 × 16 cm, 4 ⅜ × 6 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, Agnew's, London (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: Samuel Ireland (1744–1800), aquatint, 'Tintern Abbey' for Picturesque Views on the River Wye, 1 March 1797, 11.4 × 16.4 cm, 4 ½ × 6 ½ in. 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 Ireland (1744-1800)
  • Tintern Abbey, from the River Wye
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
11 × 16 cm, 4 ⅜ × 6 ¼ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; River Scenery; South Wales; The Wye Valley

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Sotheby’s, 14 April 1994b, lot 451, £17,250


Ousby, 1990, p.120

About this Work

This is the second view that Girtin made of Tintern Abbey seen across the river Wye from the English side, the first (TG0058) dating from when the young artist was apprenticed to Edward Dayes (1763–1804), whose composition he copied. Despite the numerous small differences between the two watercolours, it has hitherto been assumed that Dayes was the source for this later work too. However, the discovery during the preparation of this online catalogue that it is a copy of an aquatint published by Samuel Ireland (1744–1800) in his Picturesque Views on the River Wye has opened up intriguing new possibilities (see the source image above). According to the accompanying text, Ireland made the drawings for his illustrations of a tour along the course of the river in 1794, but the prints were not published until 1797 (Ireland, 1797). Therefore, Girtin’s copy, together with two other views taken from the same source (TG0349 and TG0350), postdates the rest of the artist’s Wye views by perhaps five years. As a result of the discovery of the source of the three later watercolours, it is now possible to say with some certainty that Girtin did not visit the much frequented picturesque river and that all of his views of the celebrated ruins at Tintern were thus made from secondary sources. However, whilst it may have made sense to copy the work of another artist early on in his career, when his apprenticeship to Dayes made it impossible to travel, by 1797 Girtin had completed the second of his annual tours and was exhibiting and selling watercolours made from his own on-the-spot sketches. What function did this work perform, therefore, and why did he turn to Ireland’s rather prosaic prints when he had perfectly good models by Dayes to work from if he wanted to produce more Tintern subjects?

The first point to make is that it is not inconceivable that Girtin was employed to make a version of Ireland’s on-the-spot sketch and was not credited on the print for his labour. However, all the differences between the watercolour and the aquatint, particularly in the rivercraft, are considerable improvements on the print, and it would not have made sense for the engraver to discard the changes. More salient, perhaps, is the different aesthetic of the watercolour, which, in the extensive areas of foliage in particular, employs a sketchier approach; it is hard to see how the engraver could have produced the much more detailed representations of the trees from such a source. In fact, all three of the Wye watercolours associated with Ireland’s publication, each measuring roughly 11.5 × 16.5 cm (4 ½ × 6 ½ in), resemble a series of sketch-like commodities that Girtin produced following his trip to the north of England in 1796. The attraction of examples such as Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck (TG1089) and Seaton Sluice (TG1088) was that they were quick to produce and might be sold at a lower price to amateurs who appreciated the spontaneous production of what purported to be sketches made on the spot, and these are precisely the qualities shown here. The economical application of simple washes of colour therefore signified a spontaneous sketch from life, even as it copied the work of another artist through the medium of an aquatint.

Girtin’s approach becomes clearer if we contrast this work with his earlier depictions of the interior of the ruins of Tintern Abbey church (TG0172 and TG0213) with the text to Ireland’s aquatint, which describes this ‘sublime and sequestered spot’ at length. For Ireland, the ‘hanging woods, the rolling stream, the nodding ruin, the surviving monuments of fallen grandeur and beauty in decay … conspire to impress the mind with awe, and for a moment withdraw from its vain pursuit of wealth and power, and abstract it from the world’ (Ireland, 1797, pp.132–33). Something of this mood comes across in Girtin’s earlier watercolours, but here the woods are hardly gloomy and the visitors to the right observe a view in which people are happily present. This is not an exercise in moral reverie so much as a celebration of the artist’s skill in faking a plausible firsthand engagement with nature, though it must be added that in comparison with Girtin’s earlier view fewer of the surrounding buildings are included.

1791 - 1792

Tintern Abbey, from the River Wye


(?) 1797

Tintern Abbey: The View from the Nave


(?) 1797

The Market at Aberystwyth


1796 - 1797

Bothal Castle, from the River Wansbeck


1796 - 1797

Seaton Sluice


1792 - 1793

The Interior of Tintern Abbey, Showing the Choir and North Transept


1792 - 1793

The Interior of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the West Window from the Choir


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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