This picture was thought to be a view of Dulwich College when it was in the collection of Mrs Alexander. However, as Elizabeth Einberg (op.cit.) makes clear, it relates to Lambert's much larger signed and dated view of Fonthill of 1740 (E. Einberg, op.cit., p1740 A, fig. 52.). Elizabeth Einberg suggests that some of the foreground shrubbery and trees, the upper part of the sky, and the standing figure in the foreground may be by another hand and that the technique of these additions is very close to that of Lambert's pupil and assistant John Inigo Richards. She also comments that the main group of figures in the foreground are stylistically close to the work of William Hogarth. In her view it is possible that these additions were made either as a result of damage sustained in or after the fire of 1755, or that the two pictures were originally of the same size, displaying a similar ratio of building to landscape.
Fonthill was owned by Alderman William Beckford (1709-70), twice Lord Major of London and father of William Thomas Beckford, the author of Vathek. The family had amassed great wealth in the sugar and slave trade in Jamaica in the previous century. William, a younger son, was sent to England in 1723 to be educated, where he settled. In 1736 he inherited the entire Beckford fortune and soon after bought the Elizabethan mansion of Fonthill from Francis Cottington. This picture presumably records what it looked like at the time. The buildings in this composition look the same as in an engraving after a 17th Century painting (for which see J. Harris, op.cit., 1966, p. 1370, fig. 3), save that an entire older range on the left hand side of the mansion appears to have been demolished and the central older range on the left side of the mansion here appears to have been demolished and the central block between the projecting wings, with their strangely asymmetrical doors, has been tidied up with a balustraded top. The small classical temple visible beyond the house on the right is perhaps a Beckford addition. Sir Richard Colt Hoare in his History of Modern Wiltshire (1824-44) named the three stages of the house 'Fonthill Antiquus' (before Beckford's alterations), 'Fonthill Redivivus' (with Beckford's Palladian addition, and 'Fonthill Splendens' (after it was rebuilt after the fire of 1755).
We are grateful to Elizabeth Einberg for her help in cataloguing this picture.