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Works Thomas Girtin

Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1342: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on paper, 21.5 × 30 cm, 8 ½ × 11 ¾ in. The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Photo courtesy of The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
21.5 × 30 cm, 8 ½ × 11 ¾ in

'Girtin' lower centre, by Thomas Girtin; 'Vale Crucis Abbey / near Llangollen / North Wales / Girtin' on the back of the mount, by another hand

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; North Wales; River Scenery

Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River; Studies of Seated Figures (TG1339)
Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River (TG1340)
Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River (TG1341)
Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River (TG1343)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
292iv as 'Valle Crucis Abbey'
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


P. G. Ryan; his sale, Sotheby's, 30 July 1952, lot 15; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £90 (stock no.6970); Dr W. Broesbank; Sotheby's, 8 July 1982, lot 165, £660; Christie's, 15 November 1983, lot 168, £1,188; Good Golly Products Ltd; their sale, Christie's, 19 March 1985, lot 103; bought by the Library, £2,592

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1953b, no.81, £250

About this Work

This view of the ruined abbey church of Valle Crucis, seen from across the Eglwyseg river, is one of four studio watercolours that Girtin created from a pencil sketch (TG1339) that he made on his tour of North Wales in 1798 (the others being TG1340, TG1341 and TG1343). Looking from the south east, the substantial remains of the east end of the church are surrounded by trees, which then enclose the ruins, and, in the one departure from the pencil drawing, the artist added a looming hill to the right in order to emphasise the dramatic location. Girtin had already depicted the east end of the church at Valle Crucis in two watercolours (TG0159 and TG0208) that were based on sketches made by his earliest patron, the antiquarian and amateur artist James Moore (1762–99). However, when he came to visit the site in person in 1798, he adopted a more oblique viewpoint so that the ancillary buildings assume equal importance in a picturesque composition that emphasises the enclosed setting, and there is no hint of the road passing by that features in the earlier views.

Vale Crucis Abbey

This was clearly an astute move commercially, as the number of orders the artist secured attests. Each of the four watercolours is on the same modest scale, roughly 21.5 × 30 cm (8 ½ × 11 3/4 in), suggesting that Girtin successfully tapped into the market for picturesque views of Welsh scenery that arose from the region’s increasing popularity with tourists. And a glance at the extensive literature that stemmed from, and in turn fuelled, the boom in visits to the region in the 1790s makes it clear why Girtin’s image of Valle Crucis was so popular. Henry Skrine (1755–1803), for instance, typically emphasised the way that a ‘vast chain of wild mountains hems in’ the ruins, ‘leaving barely room between them for a little stream and a thick grove, amidst the gloomy shade of which the mouldering walls and arches of the abbey make a most picturesque appearance’ (Skrine, 1798, p.239). But, as both the Revd Richard Warner (1763–1857) and the Revd John Evans (1768–c.1812) argued at some length, the abbey ruins offered more than just picturesque delight, for the situation ensured ‘quiet and retirement’ (Warner, 1799, p.170) and was ‘secluded from the world’s rude gaze by thick woods’, which ‘fitted it for meditation and prayer’ (Evans, 1804, p.322). Girtin almost certainly did not read such accounts and thus would not have been influenced by them when he fashioned his image, but the point is that in order to create a successful commodity, he had to embody such sentiments, and excluding the road and other overt signs of habitation, and emphasising the encroachment of nature on the ruins, was a crucial part of the process.

Sadly, only some of these qualities are still evident in this much faded watercolour. In addition to the sky being almost completely lost, the greens of the vegetation have been flattened out so that much of the sense of the ruins being reoccupied by nature has been compromised, though something of the location’s solitude at least remains. If it is possible, an even more faded contemporary copy of Girtin’s work survives, again on the same scale, further attesting to the popularity of the composition (see figure 1).

(?) 1798

Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River; Studies of Seated Figures


1798 - 1799

Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River


1798 - 1799

Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River


1798 - 1799

Valle Crucis Abbey, from the River


1793 - 1794

The East End of Valle Crucis Abbey Church


1792 - 1793

The East End of Valle Crucis Abbey Church


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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