A View in Somersetshire from Fitzhead, the Seat of Lord Somerville, 1805
John Southey, 15th Lord Somerville (1765 – 1819), commissioned directly from the artist; thence by descent.
Private collection, acquired from the above in 2004; and by descent to his son.
His sale [Property of a Gentleman]; Christie’s, London, 3 July 2012, lot 61.
Private Collection, acquired at the above sale.
Anon. sale; Christie’s, London, 6 Dec. 2018, lot 28.
Private Collection, UK, acquired at the above sale.
Reginald Grundy, James Ward R.A., London, 1909, p. 44, no. 308 or 309.
Cave, ed., The Diary of Joseph Farington, London, 1982, vol. VII, p. 2683 (entry under Sunday, 16 Feb. 1806).
Beckett, The Life and Work of James Ward R.A., Lewes, 1995, p. 202.
London, British Institution, 1806, no. 31 or 40.
This remarkable landscape, showing the extensive view from Fitzhead, near Taunton in Somerset, was painted for one of Ward’s most important patrons, the agricultural reformer John Southey, 15th Lord Somerville (1765 – 1819). Executed in 1805, it was an homage to Sir Peter Paul Rubens’s celebrated View of Het Steen in the Early Morning (fig. 1) and was chosen by Ward to be shown along with its companion at the first exhibition of the newly founded British Institution in 1806.
Having initially trained as an engraver, Ward established a reputation for his mezzotints before he began experimenting in oils, perhaps inspired by his brother-in-law, George Morland. In 1803, Ward was invited by Royal Academy President Benjamin West to his studio to see the View of Het Steen, recently acquired by Sir George Beaumont for the colossal sum of 1,500 guineas. The encounter sparked a change in Ward’s approach to landscape painting and he soon began work on his Fighting Bulls at St Donat’s Castle (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).
Ward first met Lord Somerville in connection with an ambitious scheme to produce two hundred portraits of the significant breeds of cattle, sheep and pigs. Although the project ultimately failed, Ward’s work impressed Somerville, and he commissioned a version of Ward’s large equestrian portrait of George III on His Majesty’s horse Adonis. Ward visited Somerville in Somerset to paint two large views of the Fitzhead estate and later travelled with him to Rohburghshire where he executed two further landscapes: Melrose Abbey and The Eildon Hills and the Tweed (both National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh).
John Southey, 15th Lord Somerville was born at Fitzhead Court in 1765. Having been educated at Harrow and St John’s College, Cambridge, he embarked on his Grand Tour in 1785, stopping first at Nice where he met Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, who shared his passion for agricultural reform. Somerville succeeded to the title in 1796, on the death of his uncle, and was elected to the House of Lords. He became a member, and then president, of the Board of Agriculture, as well as a Lord of the King’s Bedchamber. He devoted much of his time to the improvement of agricultural implements and the breeding of merino sheep. Doubtless Ward’s majestic and bucolic view of the English countryside struck a chord with a man so deeply devoted to the land.