Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions 2: Wayward Child of Fortune

Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions 2: Wayward Child of Fortune

Article excerpt

Builder of Towers: William Beckford and Lansdown Tower

(Christie's, 8 King Street, until 3 February)

' Some people drink to forget their unhappiness. I do not drink - I build.' William Beckford, the reclusive millionaire who inherited his millions at the age of nine, devoted his long life to works which amply justified this remark. Of the monuments created during his life, however, little has survived intact: one collapsed tower remains of the great Gothic abbey of Fonthill, his libraries and precious objects are dispersed throughout museums and private collections worldwide and the properties and gardens which he pieced together in Bath have been broken up and developed. The secret of the great 'unhappiness', which fuelled Beckford's compulsion, has been decently cloaked beneath the respectful mantles of architectural criticism, literary biography and art history.

His final career in Bath is now being celebrated in a small exhibition mounted by the Beckford Tower Trust at Christie's. It is hoped to raise consciousness as well as donations for the restoration of Beckford's belvedere tower built above the city of Bath, furnished as a Wunderkammer during his life and now the site of his tomb. The Trust has established a museum there and has begun to restore the tower and its landscape and now seeks money to stabilise the ironwork Grecian lantern which surmounts the tower. Great treasures and personal objects have been brought together for the exhibition, along with some of the dozens of contemporary prints and paintings made to record the buildings and interiors to which Beckford devoted his life.

Beckford's taste has often been bracketed with that of his rival collector Horace Walpole, whose more modest antiquarian house-museum of Strawberry Hill held comparable conceits -- Portuguese ebony furniture, painted heraldic glass and mediaeval caskets. But, in spending power, bravura and ambition, Beckford operated on a scale closer to that of the young Prince Regent, the future George IV. While Prinny vented his theatricality in designing fantastic military uniforms for himself, in compensation for the King's refusal to let him serve in the army, Beckford's personal peccadillo was designing curtains and hangings along with vases of flowers which he rearranged daily. Both created and furnished entire edifices from scratch, only to reject them and start anew in a different architectural style. Both sought out costly objects in the salerooms of post-Revolutionary France, acquiring pieces with provenances as historically magnificent as their workmanship and precious materials. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.