Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fonthill: A Shelter in the Grounds, with a Flock of Sheep and Shepherd


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 334 × 467 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XLVII 47

Display caption

Wealthy landowners often commissioned artists to make paintings of their estates and houses. Few were as extraordinary as William Beckford's outrageous residence, Fonthill Abbey. Beckford invited Turner to stay at Fonthill, in Wiltshire, when the building was still under construction. Turner made many drawings and sketches of the neo-Gothic extravagance and its huge tower, which collapsed under its
own weight a few years later.


The focus of this watercolour is the rural scene in the foreground, but some idea
of the sheer scale of the abbey can be gauged from the silhouetted tower visible on the horizon.


Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

The barn or bothy shown in this relatively highly worked drawing seems to have been constructed by laying planks or beams between trees, using an existing clump or spinney for the purpose, so that the uprights are the stems of growing trees. Working with the page turned horizontally, Turner exploits contrasts of light and shade with economical washes of grey and brown, to create a self-consciously composed subject reminiscent of Peter Paul Rubens’s Winter, of about 1618 (Royal Collection), which he may well have known; it had been in the Royal Collection since the mid-eighteenth century, when it was acquired by Frederick, Prince of Wales. Its unusual composition, looking out from a barn on to a snowy farmyard, the scene framed by the timbers of the barn itself, was to exert considerable influence on later watercolourists, notably Robert Hills (1769–1844) and Samuel Palmer (1805–1881).
Turner seems to have taken special pleasure in depicting Fonthill as a distant structure seen beyond a screen of trees; see also D02180, D02190, D02223 and D02228 (Turner Bequest XLVII 3, 13, 46, 51) in this sketchbook.
Technical notes:
For a proposed sequence for the leaves of the disbound Fonthill sketchbook, with this page as folio 12, see the Introduction.

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

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