This remarkable landscape, showing the extensive view from Fitzhead, near Taunton in Somerset, is an exceptional example of Ward's work, painted for one of the artist's most important patrons, the celebrated agricultural reformer, John Southey, 15th Lord Somerville (1765-1819). Executed in 1805, this sweeping panorama was painted in homage to Sir Peter Paul Rubens’s celebrated View of Het Steen in the Early Morning (fig. 1; c. 1636; London, National Gallery) and was chosen by Ward to be exhibited along with its companion at the first exhibition of the newly founded British Institution in 1806.
Having initially trained as an engraver, Ward developed a reputation as a mezzotinter before he started experimenting in oils, perhaps influenced by his brother-in-law, George Morland. In 1803, Ward was invited by Benjamin West to the American's studio to see Rubens's View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, recently acquired by Sir George Beaumont for the colossal sum of 1,500 guineas. This encounter inspired a transformation in Ward's approach to landscape painting and he soon began work on his famous Fighting Bulls at St. Donat's Castle (London, Victoria and Albert Museum).
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 proved to be a financial disappointment, Ward's work had impressed Somerville and he commissioned a version of the artist's large equestrian picture of George III on His Majesty's horse Adonis. Ward visited Somerville in Somerset to paint the two large panels of the Fitzhead estate and later travelled with him up to Roxburghshire, where he executed two further landscapes: Melrose Abbey and The Eildon Hills and the Tweed (Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland).
John Southey, 15th Lord Somerville, was born at Fitzhead Court, Somerset, in 1765. After his education at Harrow and St. John's College, Cambridge, Somerville left for his Grand Tour in 1785, stopping first at Nice where he met Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, who was to become a lifelong friend, sharing his enthusiasm for agricultural reform. During the Napoleonic wars, he became colonel of the West Somerset yeomanry. He succeeded to the title in 1796, on the death of his uncle, and was elected a representative peer of Scotland in the House of Lords. In 1793, Somerville was appointed one of the first members of the Board of Agriculture, and in 1798, through Pitt's influence, he was elected president. In 1799, Somerville became a Lord of the King's Bedchamber, and this brought him into close contact with George III, who took a keen interest in agriculture. Apart from the King, who was responsible for introducing merino sheep into England in 1788, Somerville became the largest breeder and owner of merinos in England. He also devoted much time to the development of agricultural implements and had a notable success with the improvement of his double-furrow ploughs. Somerville was an original member of the Smithfield Club and, in 1802, he started his annual show of cattle, sheep, and pigs in London. These shows were supported by the leading agriculturalists of the time and were the forerunners for later royal agricultural shows.