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Works Thomas Girtin

A Distant View of Dryburgh Abbey, with the Eildon Hills Beyond

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1719: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Distant View of Dryburgh Abbey, with the Eildon Hills Beyond, 1800–01, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper, 39.7 × 32.7 cm, 15 ⅝ × 12 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Distant View of Dryburgh Abbey, with the Eildon Hills Beyond
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on laid paper
39.7 × 32.7 cm, 15 ⅝ × 12 ⅞ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Visible Fold in the Paper
Subject Terms
Monastic Ruins; River Scenery; The Scottish Borders

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2004


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911); then by a settlement to his sister, Mary Hog Barnard (née Girtin) (1828–99); then by descent to Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931); ... Brian de Lolme Bullock; his sale, Sotheby’s, 20 July 1978, lot 172 as 'A Ruined Abbey by a River', £1,500; Andrew Wyld, London; Davis and Langdale, New York; Deane F. Johnson; Christie’s, 18 November 2004, lot 64 as 'Dryburgh'

Exhibition History

Anthony Reed and Andrew Wyld, London, 1979, unknown number as 'Valle Crucis Abbey'; Andrew Wyld, 1983, no.19 as ’Valle Crucis Abbey, near Llangollen, North Wales’; New York, 1985, no.18

About this Work

This faded watercolour shows a distant view of the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, looking north west across the river Tweed, with the exaggerated eminence of one of the Eildon Hills beyond.1 Girtin visited Dryburgh in the Scottish Borders in 1796 on his first independent tour, and, following the trip, he made a number of smaller views of the abbey ruins (TG1120 and TG1121) from sketches taken then. This watercolour, though, appears to have been made after a work drawn on a later trip, in 1800, when the artist is known to have stayed with the 11th Earl of Buchan (1742–1829) at his nearby seat, Dryburgh Abbey House (Jenkins, Notes, 1852). Buchan actually owned the abbey ruins and we might have expected him to have commissioned this view, though as yet there is no evidence to link him to any of the scenes in the Scottish Borders that resulted from Girtin’s second visit, including the much larger view of the Eildon Hills (TG1718). Girtin’s trip to Mulgrave Castle at the behest of Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831), likewise does not appear to have resulted in any commissions for local views, and such disappointing experiences no doubt only further encouraged the artist to look to Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of the artist in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer, to find customers for his works. Indeed, this watercolour may have been produced for Reynolds as it conforms to the smaller of the two standard sizes Girtin supplied for this new outlet for his works, which seems to have emerged sometime in 1800. That said, there is a possibility that the work was actually cut down when it was reframed by Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931) in 1886, presumably because of its poor condition. For, sadly, as with so many of Girtin’s watercolours from around 1800–1801, the drawing has lost much of its sky, with the blues and the greys of the clouds having faded to a monochrome tint, presumably due to the use of a fugitive blue pigment (indigo), and this, mixed with an equally evanescent yellow (gamboge) might account for the corruption of the greens too. Some blue remains in the river, for instance, but Girtin must have used a second, more stable pigment in this area.2 The idea that the work may have been cut down is supported by the discovery of another more extensive version of the composition on the back of a view of Durham (TG1078 verso). Girtin abandoned the work at an early stage with just a few areas of colour blocked out and whilst it is possible that he did so because he was dissatisfied with the composition, eventually trying out the more foursquare format seen here, I suspect that the inclusion of the second of the Eildon hills to the left is indicative of the original form of TG1719 with perhaps 50% more of the view visible. A loss of such a proportion would therefore mean that the watercolour originally conformed to one of the larger formats that Girtin employed for prestigious commissions (15 ⅝ × c.25 in, 39.7 × c.63.5 cm) and a more satisfactory composition where the ruins were not pressed up against the edge, and the middle of the three hills offered balance and a recognisable topographical context.

The work was not included by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak in their catalogue of the artist’s watercolours (Girtin and Loshak, 1954) and neither, apparently, is it mentioned in the Girtin Archive, which is strange because it belonged to a relative whose collection was well known to Thomas Girtin, and it was inherited ultimately from the artist’s son, Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74). I can only think that the view was not then identified and that the work’s poor condition persuaded the authors that it was not authentic. However, there is nothing wrong with the signature, and the attribution is confirmed by the presence of a characteristic drying fold in the paper to the left of the drawing. The artist’s well-known idiosyncratic willingness to incorporate the unsightly effect of the support’s handmade production clearly marks the work as by Girtin, just as much as his wholesale use of fugitive pigments.



1797 - 1798

Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept Looking North


1797 - 1799

Dryburgh Abbey: The South Transept from the Cloister



The Eildon Hills, from the River Tweed at Dryburgh


1799 - 1800

Durham Castle and Cathedral, from below the Weir; An Unidentified Hilly Landscape


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The degree to which Girtin has exaggerated the prominence of the hill beyong and brought it much closer to the ruins can be appreciated from a print titled 'View of Dryburgh Abbey and the Elden Hills' which was engraved and published by Francis Jukes in 1793 (British Library, London (Maps K.Top.49.47.1)).
  2. 2 William Henry Pyne (1769–1843) witnessed Girtin at work and recorded in detail the pigments he used, including the evanescent blues and yellows the fading of which accounts for the impaired appearance of so many of his later watercolours. Pyne’s account is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1823 – Item 2).

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