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This study was made with the page turned horizontally; see folio 80 verso (D04092) for a view of Stonehenge from the opposite side. A diagrammatic sketch of the site is on folio 42 recto (D04046). These studies of Stonehenge were perhaps made while Turner was travelling to or from Fonthill in Wiltshire while working on William Beckford’s commission for a set of views of his ‘Gothick Abbey’, then in course of construction. The five watercolours were shown at the Royal Academy in 1800 (private collection; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Montréal Museum of Fine Arts; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester).1
While it was natural enough for a landscape painter to wish to record the appearance of the unique megalithic monument, Turner may have had it in mind to include such a henge in one of the historical pictures he was then contemplating. James Barry (1741–1806) had introduced one into the background of his King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cordelia (Tate T00556), painted for Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery in 1786–8,2 and Thomas Jones (1742–1803) included a henge in his 1774 painting of The Bard (National Museum Wales, Cardiff).3 This supplied a direct precedent for Turner’s own treatment of the subject of the extermination of the Bards in the pair of large watercolours he planned at this time; see the Introduction to this sketchbook, and under folio 18 recto (D04012).
It should be noted that the style of these two drawings of Stonehenge is similar to that of figure studies on folios 20 recto–22 recto (D04014–D04016), which may indicate that they were executed at the same time as part of the same train of thought.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.338 nos.335–339, reproduced, and pl.53.
See William L. Pressly, The Life and Art of James Barry, New Haven and London 1981, p.23 no.29.
See Ann Sumner and Greg Smith (eds.), Thomas Jones (1742–1803): An Artist Rediscovered, New Haven and London 2003, p.142 no.31.
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After Joseph Mallord William Turner Stonehenge, Wiltshire