Friday 26th October 2018 marked 100 years since Stonehenge was given to the nation by Sir Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb (1876–1934). He was the last private owner of the monument, which he donated to the British government in 1918.

It's strange to think that something so iconic, so timeless and so famous had been owned by someone in the past. The art here attests to the fact that it has always had a universal appeal – the stones belong to everyone.

We may still not know exactly what Stonehenge was for, or who built it – to paraphrase Spinal Tap, nobody knows who they were or what they were doing – but today we have a much better understanding of this unique site. Moreover, Stonehenge remains a popular feature in artistic works, right up to the present. So let's go on a whistlestop artistic tour of this magnificent monument.

Stonehenge's debut in oils

There have been various depictions of the monument in prints, drawings and medals, and this is the first known real depiction of Stonehenge, in watercolour.

However, this is the earliest depiction of Stonehenge on Art UK, dating to around 1730 – the first image in oils.


Stonehenge c.1730


Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum

That's around 4,000 years after the first stones were erected. The work is by the otherwise unknown artist 'Leathes'. The monument is viewed from the west, and there are numerous groups of tiny figures in the painting, even among the stones, which give an impression of their huge size.

The imagined landscape

Maybe these three examples are better classified as 'quasi-Stonehenges'. They use the monument to allude to other things – none of them depict it as it is in reality.

The first is by Welsh artist Thomas Jones.

The Bard

The Bard 1774

Thomas Jones (1742–1803)

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

His major work 'The Bard' is based on Thomas Gray's legendary tale of Edward I's massacre of the Welsh bards. The last surviving bard is cursing the English invaders (a sentiment still shared by some today!) before hurling himself to his death from a high rock above the River Conway. In the background appear the bodies of the bards and a circle of druidic stones based upon Stonehenge (but not actually Stonehenge).

The second is by James Barry. Barry was a passionate champion of neoclassical history painting, although the art establishment of the time didn't share his enthusiasm. As a result, he died neglected and overlooked.

This is one of Barry's most ambitious paintings, made for Alderman Boydell's 'Shakespeare Gallery', a collection of engraved scenes from Shakespeare by celebrated artists of the day, exhibited in 1789. In this tragic scene, a heartbroken King Lear supports the body of his beloved daughter Cordelia. Barry has used a heroic landscape with an approximation of Stonehenge in the background, alluding to Lear's setting in ancient Britain.

The third is an allegorical imagining of history through buildings.

O Wonderful Masons

O Wonderful Masons

unknown artist

Museum of Freemasonry

From the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, in this painting civilisation is traced through its architecture, from a depiction of Stonehenge on the right, through to classical buildings in the centre, and on to London on the left. In the foreground is an architect or stonemason, who is drawing plans and is surrounded by his tools: a set square, compass, gavel and chisel. Freemasons make symbolic use of these tools in their ceremonies.

A backdrop for outdoor pursuits

Coursing is the pursuit of game or other animals by sighthounds, who catch the prey by sight and speed rather than by scent. Samuel Spode's depictions of horses and dogs are widely regarded as being among the best of his era.

Coursing at Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Coursing at Stonehenge, Wiltshire 1817

Samuel Spode (1798–1872)

Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum

The Pinckney Family Coursing at Stonehenge, Wiltshire

The Pinckney Family Coursing at Stonehenge, Wiltshire 1845

Samuel Spode (1798–1872)

The National Horseracing Museum

These two works were painted decades apart but show essentially the same thing – coursing around the ancient stones – something that would definitely be frowned upon today!

Sheep, bustards and maybe Stonehenge?

Richard Tongue of Bath was a self-taught amateur artist with an interest in prehistoric monuments. He donated three paintings to the British Museum (this was before the National Gallery was collecting more contemporary art) of which this is one.

Stonehenge from the West-South-West

Stonehenge from the West-South-West 1830s

Richard Tongue (1795–1873)

British Museum

It is a scaled up version of Tongue's earlier Sheep Grazing, Stonehenge and is the largest of his known works.

In this painting of two bustards on Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge is hardly visible.

Can you see it in the background? It's in the title so it must be there... (Hint: it's on the right of the picture!)

Enter John Constable

The great landscape artist John Constable made a watercolour of Stonehenge which is now at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

His preparation for this work included a study which is today in the collection of the British Museum.



1836, watercolour with graphite and black chalk, squared for transfer by John Constable (1776–1837)

In the preparatory work, you can still see the grid he used to mark out space and transfer the image to the finished work.

The influence of the Pre-Raphaelites

John William Inchbold (1830–1888) was born in Leeds, initially worked in watercolour, and was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites.

Stonehenge from the East

Stonehenge from the East 1866–1869

John William Inchbold (1830–1888)

Society of Antiquaries of London

Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Stonehenge, Wiltshire 1873

John William Inchbold (1830–1888)

Leeds Museums and Galleries

These two views of Stonehenge in oils (one in Leeds Art Gallery, one in the Society for Antiquaries, London) show the monument in different lights, and from slightly different perspectives.

Arrival of the modern era

Stonehenge has a timeless quality to it. However, in this painting, the modern era suddenly collides with ancient prehistory. A biplane is seen over Stonehenge.

Captain Bertram Dickson Flying a Bristol Biplane over Stonehenge, 1910

Captain Bertram Dickson Flying a Bristol Biplane over Stonehenge, 1910 1980s

Kenneth A. McDonough (1921–2002)

Royal Air Force Museum

The painting is from the 1980s but it captures a moment in September 1910 when Bertram Dickson, the first British serviceman to qualify as a pilot, flew over Stonehenge as part of British army manoeuvres on Salisbury plain. Due to a misunderstanding, Dickson landed in the enemy team's camp mistake – he had landed to report his reconnaissance by telephone!

Michael Scott's 1969 work feels almost abstract until your eye notices that the artist is close up to the stones, inside the circle – a different perspective from most of our works so far.


Stonehenge 1969

Michael Scott (b.1931)

The University of York

Malcolm Dakin is a Derbyshire-born artist who studied first at the Derby College of Art, and then at the Royal College of Art between 1964 and 1967. As well as featuring in a Yoko Ono film, he also worked as a background artist on The Beatles' 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine. In this dark and evocative painting from the late 1970s, there's a sense of anticipation – we're waiting for the rays of sunshine to creep over the black lintel and illuminate the monument.

Stonehenge Suite, No. 10

Stonehenge Suite, No. 10 c.1977

Malcolm Dakin (b.1943)

Derby Museums

Two contemporary pairings

Artist Stephen Morris created a series of twelve paintings of Stonehenge in the late 1990s. The first one here is 'January' – a painting showing the stones surrounded by a border of mauve, grey and dull green squares, evoking a winter's day.


January 1997

Stephen Morris (b.1935)

North Hertfordshire Museum

The second one is 'June'. In this altogether brighter painting, Stonehenge is in silhouette in the centre surrounded by radiating segments in a range of colours, reminiscent of the rays of the sun at the all-important summer solstice.

Stonehenge, June

Stonehenge, June 1997

Stephen Morris (b.1935)

Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum

These contrasting depictions of Stonehenge featuring blue and red skies are by Oxfordshire artist Michele Elizabeth Field.

Red Stonehenge

Red Stonehenge 2004

Michele Elizabeth Field (1953–2014)

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Blue Stonehenge

Blue Stonehenge 2004

Michele Elizabeth Field (1953–2014)

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

They are in the collection of the Horton Hospital in Banbury. They echo earlier pairings of works on the monument – as with Monet's studies of light, there's a feeling that capturing Stonehenge at just one moment in time is never enough to fully understand it. We can perhaps never really 'know' Stonehenge – we can merely glimpse moments of it through our lives.

No doubt in another 100 years, there will be plenty more artistic depictions of this truly iconic site.

Andrew Shore, Head of Content at Art UK