Thomas Girtin

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Thomas Girtin
(1775–1802)

Melrose Abbey

Inscribed on back of lining, in pen and brown ink, Melrose Abbey / on the Tweed

Watercolor over graphite
13 9/16 x 16 9/16 inches (344 x 422 mm)

Purchased as a gift of Paul Mellon

1978.22
Item description: 

For tourists in the Romantic era, Melrose Abbey had many of the same charms as Tintern Abbey as well as the additional allure of its scenic location in the Scottish Border Country. Sir Walter Scott advised visitors to view by moonlight the "broken arches" of the abbey, which provided local color in his wildly popular Border ballad The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Ruined abbeys frequently figure in the watercolors of Thomas Girtin, who made several sketching tours in this region. Although he was trained as a topographical artist, Girtin was not so much interested in architectural detail as in the spirit of the place, atmospheric effects, and interpretative touches that might evoke emotion or set a mood. Here he celebrated the bygone magnificence of Melrose Abbey while suggesting that some of its spiritual power remained on site, still a suitable locale for solitary contemplation.