Thomas Girtin

The Ruins of the Emperor Julian’s Baths, Hôtel de Cluny, Paris


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Thomas Girtin 1775–1802
Watercolour on paper
Support: 314 × 232 mm
Purchased 1982

Catalogue entry



Not inscribed
Watercolour on paper, 12 3/8 × 9 3/4 (31.3 × 23.3)
Purchased from Stanhope Shelton (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: ...; Robert Nesham, sold Christie's 30 July 1924 (80, as ‘Ewenny Priory, Glamorganshire’, by J.M.W. Turner), bt Agnew, by whom correctly identified and sold to R.A. Tatton, 1925; Gilbert Davis; Paul Tod; ‘The Property of a Lady’, sold Christie's 4 November 1975 (78, repr.), bt Stanhope Shelton.
Lit: Thomas Girtin & David Loshak, The Art of Thomas Girtin, 1954, p.201, (ii).
Repr: Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, 1979, p.47, pl.31.

Julian's Baths, so-called, but more correctly termed the ‘Thermes’, formed part of a Roman palace probably erected during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (or no later than 228 AD), and later much patronised by the Emperor Julian. The ‘Thermes’ consisted of a monumental suite of vaulted baths; Girtin's drawing is probably of the ‘Frigidarium’, which is some 65ft long and 59ft high. From the fourteenth century, after its acquisition by the Benedictines of Cluny, the building was expanded into an abbot's palace known as the Hotel de Cluny; later it was used for royal and papal visitors.

During the French Revolution, the building was commandeered as national property, then sold, passing through various owners' hands. In the late 1790s the ‘Thermes’ were used by a cooper, whose casks and barrels may be seen in Girtin's drawing. The Hotel de Cluny was re-purchased by the State in 1843, and from the following year was used (as it still is) as a museum (see Edmond Haraucourt, Le Musée de Cluny, 1925, pp.9–14). The Hotel de Cluny is on the left bank of the Seine, at the crossroads of the Boulevard St Germain and the Boulevard St Michel.

Girtin spent some six months in Paris in 1801–2, probably arriving there within a month of the signing (on 1 October 1801) of the Peace of Amiens, and returning to London in May 1802. His own chief purpose in going to Paris was to make a series of panoramic views, mostly published posthumously in 1803 as A Selection of Twenty of the Most Picturesque Views in Paris and its Environs; he had also been advised to seek a (preferably warmer) change of air for his deteriorating health (he died in London on 9 November 1802, six months after his return from Paris). He sketched most of his Paris views from the windows of hired coaches; T 03340, of which there is an almost identical version in the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (13 × 9 5/8in., Girtin & Loshak, op.cit., no.482 i), is his only known Paris interior.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

You might like

In the shop