Is anyone watching out for early depictions of Stonehenge? Like illustrations of Easter Island, they come and go through salerooms, and every so often something pops up that can help us understand part of the story. My friend Paul Stamper has directed me to a new catalogue from RG Watkins Books & Prints in Somerset. Among the lots are an early photo of Stonehenge, and two little sepia and wash sketches.
The latter (no 132, £250 the pair) are described as “Signed, titled and dated ‘S. Wilson R.M. Academy 5 April 1845 and 16 Nov 1845”. Sylvester Wilson, says Watkins, was appointed cadet at the Royal Military Academy in 1843, but was “discharged at the request of his friends” in July 1846. So he would have been in the army when he drew Stonehenge, based in Woolwich, London. “It is scarce”, says Watkins, “to find early dated drawings which were obviously made from direct observation of the monument.” Yet all may not be what it seems.
Chris Chippindale was thoroughly on the Stonehenge trail in the 1980s. He published two paintings by James Bridges (1802-65) that were clearly the models for Wilson’s works.
Wilson’s wider scene, above (November 1845), is a copy of a watercolour by Bridges which Chippindale (1983, Pl IV) dates to early-mid 19th century, private collection (below).
Wilson’s interior view (April 1845) is a simplified copy of Bridges’ watercolour in the collection of Devizes Museum, which Chippindale (1986) dates to c 1820.
Devizes has other paintings attributed to Bridges, including this one below.
And Salisbury Museum has a nice view with barrows (at top).
Chippindale (1983, Pl V) illustrated a further interior view by Bridges, also in a (the same?) private collection.
James Bridges’s Stonehenge, by C Chippindale, Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 80 (1986), 230–32
Stonehenge Complete, by C Chippindale (Thames & Hudson 1983)