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The present watercolour shows Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire, from the south-west. Designed by James Wyatt (1746 – 1813) for William Beckford (1760 – 1844), work began in the grounds of the Fonthill estate in 1796 on what was initially to be a gothic folly. However, it rapidly evolved into a vast Gothic Revival house with a central tower that was 267 ft high. It was completed in 1819, but Beckford only lived in it for a short time, his lavish spending, and losses of income following the sale of interests in the West Indies, meant that he was forced to sell it in 1822. Just three years later, the tower collapsed; the builders had cut corners and had not built the tower with the foundations that Wyatt had specified. The tower had already collapsed twice during construction, but each time Beckford had insisted that it be rebuilt in a larger and grander style. The rest of the house was demolished in 1845.
Despite only standing for such a short time, Fonthill proved a hugely popular subject with artists, engravers and the general public, all fascinated both by the building and the man responsible for it. Artists including J. M. W. Turner, John Buckler, George Cattermole, William Havell and Francis Danby, amongst others, produced views of Fonthill. Danby’s highly finished watercolour of the Abbey in its surroundings, now in a private collection, was with the Christopher Wood Gallery. The palette and treatment of the present work is reminiscent of Danby’s work.