Romantic Circles Gallery
In the immediate foreground of the picture plane is a herd of sheep. The sheep are reclining on the ground in manner that suggests that they have either been struck dead or are sleeping. Only several of the sheep are upright. To the left of the herd, guarded by a starkly pale dog standing in an aggressive pose, is a sleeping figure, presumably a shepherd. Just left of the center of the canvas stands Stonehenge. The center of the circle of stones is illuminated by what appears to be a lightning bolt; this dramatic ray is intersected on both sides by shafts of light which break through the heavy clouds rolling across the sky.
Copyright, 2009, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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Parts DescriptionThe text of the book, Picturesque Views of England and Wales, was written by H.E. Lloyd.
J.M.W. Turner is the artist that created the original Stone Henge, on which Wallis’s engraving is based. [M.S.]
Edition and StateSecond or later published state
Printing ContextStonehenge is plate No. 27 in Picturesque Views of England and Wales.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire. Arguably the most famous ruins in all of England, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. Furthermore, Stonehenge sits at the center of the densest complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds. Archaeologists had believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 B.C. However, one recent theory has suggested that the first stones were not erected until 2400-2200 B.C., while another suggests that bluestones may have been erected at the site as early as 3000 B.C. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC (C. Chippindale, Stonehenge Complete 14-17).
Associated TextsConstable, John. Stonehenge. 1835. Watercolor on paper. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1629-1888.
Jones, Thomas. The Bard. 1774. National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
Milton, James. Stonehenge. 1800. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 99-1889.
Rowlandson, Thomas. Stonehenge. c. 1784. Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.
Turner, J.M.W. Stone Henge. c.1825-1828. Watercolor on paper. Private Collection.
-----.Stonehenge: Sunset. c. 1811-1813. Private Collection.
J. M. W. Turner’s original watercolor was painted in 1825; it is now part of a private collection in the United Kingdom. Stonehenge is one of 96 copper engravings appearing in Picturesque Views of England and Wales by J. M. W. Turner, published in 1838.
SubjectThis image depicts the famous ruins of Stonehenge, but does so in a unique way. A line-engraving of J.M.W Turner’s Stone Henge, it is an image that simultaneously adheres to notions of the Romantic picturesque and undermines the expectations of the artistic technique made popular by Gilpin. Not simply a scene of the idyllic picturesque, the sublime is invoked by the fantastic landscape—the vast spaces, rolling clouds, and lightning—and is enhanced by the fearful and dire presence of the unknown.
ThemeStonehenge has existed for thousands of years; it has become a symbol of permanence and an indication of eras past that humans in the present cannot comprehend. In the Romantic era, the scholar William Stukeley conjectured that it was constructed “not long after Cambyses’ invasion of Egypt,”, which was about 525 B.C. (W. Stukeley, Stonehenge 66; P. Briant, Cyrus to Alexander 55). The image, with its vast sky and shadowed ground, suggests the expanses outside its boundaries, and the monument itself conveys its lengthy but inaccessible history.
SignificanceStone Henge combines the picturesque and the sublime, both important aspects of Romantic art. The detail in the image, the carefully arranged stones and sheep, and the various textures of the scene are all picturesque traits. The sublime aspect comes mainly from the immense age of Stonehenge: its mere presence indicates ages of time that cannot possibly be included in a single image. In an age shaped by the rationalism of the Enlightenment, a mysterious structure with no obvious function fascinated Romantic thinkers, especially as they considered the possibility of miracles: one might see an image of Stonehenge and wonder what phenomena the ancient druids could have experienced (W. Stukeley, Stonehenge 5).
Robert Wallis was a talented landscape engraver known for his reproductions of J.M.W. Turner’s illustrations (A. McConnell, “Wallis, Robert” Oxford DNB). The fascination and awe that is evoked by the remnants of Stonehenge is consistent with the general allure of ruins in the Romantic era. This particular site was shrouded in mystery, and Turner’s work, as well as Wallis’s reproduction of it, demonstrates the popular interest in this type of aesthetic. While the original purpose of Stonehenge is still unclear, the remains prompt the viewer to imagine its history, creating an eerie, sublime feeling of wonder induced by a lack of full comprehension. William Gilpin himself stated that Stonehenge “appeared astonishing beyond conception. A train of wandering ideas immediately crowded into the mind. Who brought these huge masses of rock together? Whence were they brought?” (W. Gilpin, Theories 77). Wallis’s engraving work was essential to enabling a wider audience to view Turner’s depiction and spur further fascination concerning ruinous sites.
At the same time, however, Robert Wallis’s line-engraving of J.M.W Turner’s Stone Henge can be viewed as an image that simultaneously adheres to notions of the Romantic picturesque and undermines the expectations of the artistic technique made popular by Gilpin. While many other landscape and travel painters were striving to bring foreign locales to a domestic English audience, Wallis, after Turner, seems to be doing the exact opposite; instead of familiarizing the exotic, Wallis de-familiarizes the famous ruins, adding a touch of the mystical with what appear to be bolts of lightning and herds of sheep immobilized or struck dead with fright. Here the ruins are not only presented as picturesque or sublime, but also as a reminder of Britain’s pagan past. Wallis is de-familiarizing a national space perhaps with the intention of making it exotic and sublime to pique the interest of local tourists.
BibliographyA description of Stonehenge, on Salisbury plain; extracted from the works of the most eminent authors: ... to which is added, an account of the fall of three stones, Jan. 3, 1797. A new edition: ornamented with five views. Salisbury, 1800. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Brennan, Matthew. Wordsworth, Turner, and Romantic Landscape: A Study of the Traditions of the Picturesque and the Sublime. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1987.
Briant, Pierre. From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006.
Chippindale, Christopher. Stonehenge Complete. London: Thames and Hudson, 1983.
Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
Gage, John. Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.
Gray, Thomas. The traveller's companion, in a tour through England and Wales; containing a catalogue of the antiquities, houses, parks, plantations, scenes, and situations, in England and Wales, arranged according to the alphabetical order of the ... counties…. A new edition; to which are now added, considerable improvements and additions. London, . Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Grinsell, L.V. “ The Legendary History and Folklore of Stonehenge.” Folklore 87.1 (1976): 5-20.
Hawes, Louis. Constable’s Stonehenge. London: HMSO, 1975.
Haycock, David Boyd. William Stukeley: Science, Religion, and Archaeology in Eighteenth-Century England. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2002.
McConnell, Anita. “Wallis, Robert William (1794–1878).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 20 Apr. 2009 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/28577.
Paulson, Ronald. Literary Landscape: Turner and Constable. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.
Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Stonehenge: Plans, Description, and Theories. London: Edward Stanford, 1880.
Piggott, Stuart. William Stukeley: An Eighteenth-Century Antiquary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950.
Stukeley, William. Stonehenge a temple restor'd to the British druids. By William Stukeley, ... London, 1740. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. University of Wisconsin - Madison.
Thomson, Alexander, M.D. Letters of a traveller, on the various countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa: containing sketches of their present state, government, religion, manners, and customs; with some original pieces of poetry. Edited by Alexander Thomson, M.D. London, 1798. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Turner, J. M. W., Eric Shanes, and Andrew Wilton. Turner's Picturesque views in England and Wales, 1825-1838. Illustrated ed. London: Chatto & Windus, 1979.
Weinbrot, Howard. Britannia’s Issue: The Rise of British Literature from Dryden to Ossian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Long TitleWallis, Robert. Stone Henge. 1829. After J. M. W. Turner, 1829. Line-engraving, second or later published state. Image 6 1/2 x 9 1/4; sheet 10 1/2 x 14 1/2; plate 10 x 12. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. B1977.14.13346