Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fonthill: Distant View of the Abbey from the East, with the Lake in the Foreground and a Team of Oxen


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 330 x 433 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XLVII 46

Display caption

In 1799 Turner received a commission for a series of views from Willian Beckford, an eccentric and very wealthy landowner, who was just then constructing his gothic abbey at Fonthill, not far from Salisbury. In the five large watercolours that Turner subsequently exhibited at the Royal Academy, he depicted the incomplete abbey from different points on the estate, but the titles given in the catalogue emphasised Turner's aim of recreating specific times of day in each drawing: morning, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. In some of the sketches he made for the series, such as this work, it is clear that he had already begun to understand the dramatic possibilities inherent in naturalistic effects.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Working with the page turned horizontally, Turner has brought his subject to a high degree of finish, deploying washes of richly hued watercolour to create the effect of an oil painting. The palette here is reminiscent of that in the large watercolour Caernarvon Castle, North Wales that he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800 (Tate D04164; Turner Bequest LXX M),1 but the pencil drawing on which the watercolour is superimposed consists of broad loose hatching in the style of the late landscape studies of Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788). With its carefully balanced groups of trees and team of oxen there are compositional similarities, too: Turner seems to be imitating Gainsborough’s use of classical models derived from the work of Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682), as he does in the Caernarvon Castle as well.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.329 no.263, pl.52.
Technical notes:
For a proposed sequence for the leaves of the disbound Fonthill sketchbook, with this page as folio 20, see the Introduction.

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

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