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Thomas Girtin

Thomas Girtin (1775–1802)
Melrose Abbey
Watercolor over graphite, ca. 1796–99
13 9/16 x 16 9/16 inches (344 x 422 mm)
Inscribed on back of lining, in pen and brown ink, Melrose Abbey / on the Tweed
Purchased as a gift of Paul Mellon; 1978.22
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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.

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The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.