Who was William Beckford?

A portrait of William Beckford.



Ahead of a talk this 24th October with Dr Amy Frost, we wanted to find out more about William Beckford.

William Beckford (1760-1844) was an English novelist, art collector, patron of decorative art and, for a period, a politician.  A child of privilege, he inherited a vast fortune from his father and was known, at one stage, as England’s richest commoner.  As well as his flamboyant personality and unconventional life he is remembered as the author of a Gothic novel Vathek (1786), for building, the now lost, Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire and Lansdown Tower (Beckford’s Tower) in Bath, and for his art collection.

His large fortune allowed him to indulge in his interest in art and architecture on a grand scale.  During his lifetime he became the preeminent connoisseur of art and one of the most influential collectors of Oriental, Islamic and Renaissance Art.

His interest were broad and his taste discerning.  He only purchased the best examples and his vast collection included paintings, drawings, engravings, lithographs, European and Chinese silver and porcelain as well as Japanese lacquer and English, French and Italian furniture.  The breadth of his interests influenced other private collectors of the time, including the Rothschilds and the Marquis of Hertford, who created what we now know as the Wallace Collection.

By 1822 William Beckford was short of funds and in debt.  He departed Fonthill Abbey and relocated to Bath.  Fonthill Abbey and the majority of his art collection was sold. He remained, however,  a collector of the rare and exotic until his death in 1844.

Although some of Beckford’s finest acquisitions are now in private collections others were acquired by some of the great American and British institutions such as the British Museum, The National Gallery in London, The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, The National Museum of Scotland and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

This lecture by Dr Amy Frost, Senior Curator of Bath Preservation Trust explores the breadth and quality of Beckford’s Art Collection and his obsession with how it was displayed.

Lecture by Dr Amy Frost – 24th October 7.30pm – 8.30pm