Richard Wilson, R.A. North Wales artist 1713-1782

Home Page | COMPLETE CATALOGUE OF WILSON PAINTINGS 

 

Visits since April, 2010

Please send comments to glennmanc@hotmail.com Updated July 10th, 2014
LATEST NEWS:
A major tercentenary Wilson exhibition "Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting" is now running at the National Museum in Cardiff, UK and will run until Oct. 26th, 2014. Previously at the Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven, CT, USA until June 1st, 2014. A 416-page book/catalogue with the same title by M. Postle and R. Simon is already available in both UK and USA.
Paintings on display in the Cardiff exhibition are shown in the Catalogue as: Exhibition-Cardiff-2014

There was also an exhibition of paintings from the Ford collection,including many by Richard Wilson rarely seen in public before, at the Gainsborough's House Museum in Sudbury, Suffolk, until May 31st, 2014. Shown in the Catalogue as: Exhibition-Sudbury-2014

The exhibition of Wilson paintings at Gloucester City Museum, due to end in March 2014, has been extended until at least July 2014. These are mainly from the Marling collection listed in the Catalogue (search for "Gloucester")

Note that many Wilson paintings will not be found in their normal locations during this period.


Richard Wilson worked in the mid-18thC, mainly in North Wales, London and Italy. His classical and Welsh landscapes are reminiscent of the 17thC French artist, Claude Lorrain, who was very popular with art collectors of Wilson's time. Both Constable and Turner acknowledged the influence of Wilson's landscapes on their own work.

He died at Colomendy Hall (map) on the Flintshire/Denbighshire border (Clwyd), a few miles from Mold and near the present-day Loggerheads Country Park (map) (illustrated left: Tate Gallery; click here for a present-day view).
The best, and most authoritative, recent and concise summary of Wilson's life and work is by Solkin (2004); see References at the foot of this page.

He and other family members were buried in Mold churchyard where their tombstones may still be seen (near North entrance) (map). His Welsh landscapes include Snowdonia, Llangollen and the river Dee between Holt and Chester.

Compare his Cader Idris (Llyn y Cau) with the real thing. Wilson was born on the south side of this mountain in the Snowdonia National Park.

 He is said to have painted the original inn sign for the Loggerheads public house (on the main road from Mold to Ruthin), though the present sign is recent and probably at least the second copy. An earlier copy was still on view (under glass) inside the inn until recently (having suffered the ravages of time!). One unconfirmed explanation for its recent disappearance from the inn is that the owner of the inn recently sold out to the Brewery and that ownership of the painting is disputed. This may have been the version that was taken indoors in 1928, though the empty frame remained on the front wall for some years afterwards. The inn itself belonged to the Colomendy Estate until 1926. Wilson is also said to have painted a second sign for the Ship Inn at Llong (map) on the Mold-Chester road, not far from Leeswood Hall, but it was chopped for firewood when the house ceased to be an inn [Stanley, 1987].

Old Postcards of the Loggerheads Inn (from Stanley, 1987)
Ca. 1900
Ca. 1910
Ca. 1930

Map of North Wales | Map of Mold area | His work | Where to see it | Colomendy Hall | His grave | Bibliography | Catalogue of paintings | 

·  ·  ·  Wilson's Painting and Drawings

A Personal View

Richard Wilson started out as a portrait painter, the only way to make a living as an artist in England in the mid-18th century, but the competition from the likes of Reynolds and Gainsborough must have been formidable. Whereas Gainsborough's success with portraits inhibited his pursuit of landscape, Wilson's lack of success in the portrait field may have encouraged his development as a pioneer of landscape in Britain. Wilson's typical landscape style, though easily overlooked amongst more dramatic pictures in a gallery, is quite distinctive. A tree with delicate foliage in the foreground. A stretch of water and a classical building in the middle ground. Tiny people and animals go about their everyday work or play, dominated by the landscape around them. And those glowing Wilson skies that are common enough in real life in North Wales and equally inspiring. The more one sees of Wilson's paintings, the more one appreciates both the vast range of his output and his shameless repetition of favourite motifs or whole compositions.
It has been argued that Wilson was influenced by different artists at different stages of his career though it might be equally accurate to say that he was willing to turn his hand to what people wanted. If they wanted Salvator Rosa bandits, or a Vernet seascape, or a Lambert topographical scene, or a Kneller- (or even Rembrandt-) style portrait or a Claudean scene from Ovid, Wilson could make a damned good job of it. Some of Wilson's landscapes have been shown to be virtual copies of works by Dughet (Gaspar Poussin) and Ricci (Solkin, 1982).
Wilson's landscapes derived from the 17thC Roman school dominated by Claude and Nicolas Poussin. He influenced both Joseph Wright of Derby and Turner. Unlike his contemporary, Gainsborough, and Constable who followed, Wilson showed less interest in the 17thC Dutch "everyday life" school of landscape (Rubens, Ruysdael, etc), but could turn his hand to it more than adequately when necessary (e.g. "On Hounslow Heath). Perhaps the treatment of landscape as areas of light and texture on the canvas, going beyond Claude in drawing attention away from any human activity, was Wilson's subtlest influence on Constable and Turner, both of whom frequently acknowledged their debt to Wilson. Wilson's use of human figures in his paintings is not easy to understand. Superficially, they are there to provide scale and depth to the painting without distracting attention from the landscape. Even in "history" paintings like "Niobe" where one would think the dramatic action might prevail, the landscape is allowed to dominate. However, Wilson's famous quotation "Do not fall into the common mistake of objecting to Claude's figures" suggests a greater regard for the importance of figure painting.
Modern critics are often keen to avoid overstating the influence of Claude on the whole body of Wilson's work, but the most endearing, poetic and immediately attractive of his paintings are those in which Claude's influence is clearest. Art experts of the present-day tend to regard his Welsh and English landscapes most highly. Solkin (1982) draws attention to the fact that Wilson painted for reactionary landowners and was himself almost certainly politically reactionary. In this light, the dominance of landscape over human figures takes on a new significance.

·  ·  NEW! Quotations What Wilson said and what people have said about him.

·  ·  Complete catalogue of paintings

 

Major paintings by Wilson are on public display at the following galleries:
The links are now direct to gallery home pages, followed by links to photos of Wilsons on display.

To see a list of Wilson's paintings in "W.G.Constable" order, click here.

WARNING Note: Times, prices and especially display descriptions may become out-dated - check with gallery before visiting.

WALES
Cardiff. (National Museum of Wales [Tues-Sun 10-5; free]) [up to 17 display + 6 stored]
Swansea. (Glynn Vivian Gallery [Tues-Sun 10-5; free]) [1 display?]
Aberystwyth. (National Library of Wales) [1 display? 2+ stored]
Bangor. (Penryhn Castle [April-Oct, Wed-Mon 10-5; £6]) [1 display]
LONDON
London (Tate Britain. [daily 10-5.50: (until 9pm Fridays) free]) [website shows which of 30 paintings are displayed-search "artist"]
London (National Gallery [daily 10-6: free]) [2 display]
London (National Portrait Gallery [Mon-Sat 10-6; Sun 12-6: free]) [1 display]
London (Victoria and Albert Museum. [daily 10-5.45; (until 9pm Fridays) free]) [1 display? + 4 stored].
London (The Foundling Museum. [Tues-Sat 10-5; Sun 11-5: £7.50 ]) [2].
Twickenham, London. (Marble Hill House.[Re-opens April 1, 2012: Sat 10-2, Sun 10-5: £5.30]) [1].
Dulwich, London. (Dulwich Picture Gallery. [Tues-Fri 10-5; Sat/Sun 11-5: £5]) [1 display].
Greenwich, London (National Maritime Museum.[daily 10-5: free]) [1].
THE NORTH-WEST
Liverpool (Walker Gallery [10-5 daily;FREE]) [3 display; 1 photo]
Port Sunlight (Lady Lever Art Gallery [Mon-Sat 10-5; Sun 12-5;FREE]) [4 display + 1 stored; 1 photo]
Manchester (Platt Hall Gallery of Costume [Re-opened 2010: Wed-Sat, 1.30-4.30, free]) [1 display; photo]
Manchester (City Art Gallery [Tues-Sun, 10-5; free]) [2 + 1 stored]
Manchester (Heaton Hall [Thurs-Sun 10-5 Apl-August only; free]) [2 display; 1 photo]
Preston. (Harris Museum. [Mon-Sat 10-5; free]) [1 stored]
THE NORTH-EAST
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (Laing Art Gallery [Mon-Sat 10-5; Sun 2-5: Free]) [1 display].
Malton, York (Scampston Hall [Tues-Fri plus Sun, June-Aug only, tours at 1, 2 or 3pm; £5- house only]) [2 display]
Leeds. (Temple Newsam House [Tues- Sun 10.30-5: £3.50]) [1] .
Barnard Castle, Co. Durham (The Bowes Museum [daily 10-5; £8]) [1 display; photo]
THE MIDLANDS
Oxford (Ashmolean Museum.[Tues-Sun, 10-6; free])[up to 3 display? of 7 total].
Cambridge. (Fitzwilliam Museum [Tues-Sat 10-5; Sun 2-5; free]) [1 display photo+ 3 stored]
Lode, Cambridge. (Anglesey Abbey [Mar12-Oct22: Mon-Tues 12-3; Wed-Sun 1-5; £10)]). [4]
Birmingham (Barber Institute [daily 10-5; Sun 11-5; free]) [1 display; photo]
Birmingham (Museum and Art Gallery [daily 10-5; Sun 12.30-5; free]) [1 display photo + 2 stored].
Hagley, Birmingham. (Hagley Hall [1.30-4.30pm, Jan9-Feb9 only, 2012; £10 guided tours]) [1 display]
Wolverhampton (Art Gallery [Mon-Sat, 10-5; free]) [1 display]
Bakewell ( Chatsworth House [daily 11.00-5.30 £11.50 + £2 parking]) [1 display].
Banbury ( Upton House [Fri-Wed 1.00-5.00 Mar 9th-Oct; £9 ]) [1 display].
Nottingham. (Castle Museum and Art Gallery [Sat-Thurs 10-5; free, except weekends-£2.00]) [1 display]
Leicester. (City Art Gallery [daily 10-5; Sun 2-5; free]) [1]
Norwich. (Castle Museum [daily 10-5; Sun 1-5; £6.20 or £1 for 1h before closing]) [1 display]
Gloucester. (Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery[Tues-Sat 10-5; £3])
THE SOUTH
Bournemouth (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery) [1 stored]
Petworth. (Petworth House [Apl-Oct, Sat-Wed (some rooms closed at weekends), 11-5; £11]).
Warminster (Stourhead [mid-March-Oct, Sat-Wed, 12-5.30; £9-40]) [1 display]
Salisbury. (Wilton House [May-Aug, Sun-Thurs 11-4.30; £14]) [9 display]
Southampton (City Art Gallery [Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-4; free]) [1 display?]
Brighton Brighton Museum and Art Gallery [daily ex Wed, 10-5 (Sun 2-5); free]. [2?Wilson].
THE SOUTH-WEST
Bath (No. 1 Royal Crescent Museum) [1]
Bideford, Devon (Burton Art Gallery (Tues-Sat 10-4; free)) [1 stored]
Bodmin, Cornwall. (Pencarrow House [Sun-Thurs, Apl11-May 1.30-4.30; Jun-Oct15 11-4.30]) [2 display].
Bristol (City Museum and Art Gallery [daily 10-5; free]) [1 display].
Exeter, Devon. (Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery [Mon-Sat 10-5; free]). [1 stored].
SCOTLAND
Edinburgh (National and National Portrait Galleries of Scotland; also Paxton House) [0, 1, 1, all display]
Aberlady, Edinburgh. Gosford House [open 1-4pm Thurs-Sun, 5 Aug- 16 Sep (2012), £6]. [1 display, 3 private].
Glasgow. (Kelvingrove Art Gallery) [1 display]
IRELAND
Dublin, Eire (National Gallery of Ireland) [4 display?].
Belfast, NI. The Ulster Museum [1].

U.S.A.
New Haven, CT. (Yale Centre for British Art [Tues-Sat 10-5 (Sun 12-5); free]). [usually display over half the 18 paintings]
Washington, DC (National Gallery of Art) [1 display, 1 in store; photos]
Boston, MA. (Museum of Fine Arts) [4 in store].
Philadelphia, PA.( Museum of Art) [3 in store]
New York, NY (Metropolitan Museum of Art) [1 stored]
Buffalo, NY. (Albright-Knox Art Gallery) [1 in store]
Poughkeepsie, NY. (Vassar College Art Gallery) [2 in store].
Cleveland, Ohio. (Art Museum) [1 stored].
Toledo, Ohio. (Museum of Art) [1 display].
Houston, Texas (Blaffer Foundation (closed for renovation, 2012)) [1; photo]
San Marino (near LA), California. (Henry Huntington Library and Art Gallery) [1 display]
Fort Worth, Texas. (Kimbell Art Gallery) [1]
Northampton, Mass. (Smith College Museum) [1 in store]
Indianapolis, IN. (Museum of Art) [1 display]
Terre Haute, IN. (Sheldon Swope Art Museum). [1]
Raleigh NC. (North Carolina Museum of Art) [1 display; photo]

REST OF THE WORLD
Munich, Germany (Neue Pinakothek [Wed-Mon; 10-5; 5 Euro]) [1 stored]
Ottawa, Canada (National Gallery) [1]
Montreal, Canada (Museum of Fine Arts) [2 stored]
Vancouver, Canada (Art Gallery) [1 stored]
Bermuda (National Gallery) [1 display]
Tokyo, Japan (National Museum of Western Art) [1 display]
Adelaide, Australia (Art Gallery of South Australia) [1 display].
Melbourne, Australia. (National Gallery of Victoria) [2]

Where to see Wilson's Paintings

Top locations (according to number currently on display):

Cardiff (Wales) 17 paintings
New Haven (USA) 10 paintings

·  ·  These are outstanding in both number and quality.

Salisbury (UK) 9 paintings
Greater London (UK) 14 paintings (but spread across 7 sites)
Liverpool/Port Sunlight 7 paintings
Dublin (Eire) 4 paintings
Oxford (UK) 3 paintings

·  The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff (Tues-Sun 10-5) displays, in Gallery Four, 14 magnificent paintings which cover the full range of his output (portraits, British and Italian landscapes, classical scenes) and also has the important portrait of Wilson by Mengs. In the adjacent room can be found examples of artists who influenced Wilson's landscape painting, including Dughet and Cuyp (the painting by Claude Lorrain was taken down into store in Feb 2003).
The Wilson room itself also displays work by Wilson's pupils, notably Thomas Jones (8 paintings), and a Wilsonesque "Lake Albano" by Joseph Wright of Derby. Less directly influenced by Wilson are several Welsh landscapes by J.C. Ibbetson and others, including many views of Caernarvon Castle to compare with the Wilson version. One George Lambert and three J.I. Richards landscapes also make interesting comparisons with the Wilsons. There are also paintings by Zuccarelli who Wilson admired and met in Venice and two Gainsborough landscapes (one a 2001 acquisition).
The Wilson room puts the artist's work into context by displaying other paintings and objects associated with Wilson's principal patron in Wales, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, who inherited the vast Wynnstay estates between Wrexham and Llangollen. These include family portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough and a large Batoni portrait of Sir Watkin's Grand Tour. Overall, an instructive and imaginative display (2001-recently changed). Sadly, there is no catalogue in print at present.

·  The Wilson devotee can also get a cheap lunch in the Pillars self-service restaurant in Cardiff's Queen Street and find two famous etchings of Wilson paintings by Woollett, published Boydell 1763 (Niobe [cat 19a] and Phaeton [cat 22a]) on display just outside the Women's Toilet! The Boydell version of Cardiff's Ceyx and Alcyone can be found in the Reading Room of the National Trust property, Nunnington Hall, in Yorkshire.

·  At Gregynog, a University of Wales property near Newtown (Powys), two paintings on loan from Cardiff and questionably by Wilson are displayed in the Senior Common Room. A small "White Monk" is hardly good enough for Wilson, while the better "Shrewsbury: Old Welsh Bridge" is not fully accepted as a Wilson. There is a large "Conway Castle" by George Barret in the same room.
Apart from the portrait of Rowland Jones in Chirk Castle, the only Wilson on display in North Wales is in Penrhyn Castle, a National Trust property near Bangor, where it hangs high in the Breakfast Room (take binoculars!). It is a unique painting looking down a wide estuary to the sea with Italianate buildings and gardens in the middle ground. Penrhyn Castle also has a typical Gainsborough landscape in the Dining Room.

The Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut (Tues-Sat 10-5 (Sun 12-5); free) has one of the largest Wilson collections in the world, having acquired many that were in private hands when Constable produced his catalogue (1953). Ten of its 18 Wilsons were on view in 2002 in the permanent collection on the fourth floor, including the two large views of Dinas Bran that used to hang in the London house of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn in St. James. They are displayed in separate rooms, one under "The Edge of Civilization" with a Turner "Harlech Castle" and a large "Snowdon" by von Loutherberg, and the other under "Ideal Landscape". A full-size version of the famous "Niobe" is displayed next door under "History Painting", while the following "Grand Tour" room contains three of Wilson's Italian views: a fine "View of Rome from the Villa Madama" with the RW monogram clearly visible, a small oil sketch of "Lago d'Agnano" and an uncommon "Italian Landscape (morning)" with an uncommon signature. In the "Discovery of Britain" room, there is a small oil sketch of his "Dover" and an interesting version of "Caernarvon Castle" with an artist painting in the foreground. In the same room is a view of Box Hill by George Lambert, a companion to the painting in the Tate. The famous view of the "Pagoda in Kew Gardens" is displayed alongside a unique "St. James Park Wilderness" in the "Artist and the Garden room". The collection includes landscapes by Gainsborough (five on display), Joseph Wright and Stubbs, plus a very attractive George Morland (Rustic Family passing a watermill, 1790) and several "English" Canalettos. A range of the work of both Constable and Turner can be seen, a couple of the latter showing Wilson influence as well as that of Claude. The collection offers an outstanding experience of 18th/19thC landscape painting in Britain and the only "permanent" Wilson display to rival that of Cardiff.

In London, the National Gallery displays two important views of the Dee between Holt and Chester in Room 35. Acquired from the Tollemache collection in 1953, they have not been cleaned from fear of crack damage. The rich collection here enables you to "place" Wilson in a long tradition of landscape from Giorgione, through Rubens and Claude, to Gainsborough and Constable. Tate Britain usually has 3 or 4 Wilsons on display, but it rotates its large collection on a fairly regular basis. The Tate website gives up-to-date information on what is displayed. The National Portrait Gallery is displaying a Flora MacDonald portrait by Wilson (see also Edinburgh) and the V & A is displaying River Mouth with Peasants Dancing, the "other half" of Pastoral Scene in the Oxford Ashmolean,at the beginning of its "Britain: 1750-1900" exhibit. The Wallace Collection (Manchester Square, London) has no Wilsons, but does have an impressive display of relevant landscapes by Rubens, Claude, Dughet, Rosa and Vernet.
The Tate and the National Portrait Galleries have complete catalogues on their websites, with most items illustrated, while The National Gallery has an excellent CD-ROM and has recently improved its website with images of all paintings. The V & A website has greatly improved in the last few years, with a "Search the Collection" facility that not only finds Wilson paintings but tells you if they are on display.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London offers easy parking and an excellent collection of 17th-early 19thC landscapes. The "Cascatelle at Tivoli" shows Wilson at his most poetic. It is displayed in a small room but can be seen at its best from a distance through the doorway to the adjacent room, which has a modest Claude and a large Duguet (the latter bearing little resemblance to Wilson, as usual). There are a number of paintings on display by Cuyp, who Wilson admired, including some of his best work.

The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, a few miles across the Mersey on the road to North Wales, display 7 Wilsons between them. The range and quality of these paintings makes Merseyside second only to Cardiff and London as the place to see Wilson at his best in the UK.

·  The two important Wilsons in the Walker Gallery, the famous Snowdon and the Valley of the Mawddach, have now been joined by a third. The large painting, "Phaeton's Petition to Apollo", was one of a set of four commissioned by Henry Blundell for Ince Hall near Liverpool and was acquired by the UK Government in 1999, in lieu of a tax commitment of £170,000 (Blundell paid Wilson 70 guineas). This work is more imposing than another of the series displayed in the Bristol Gallery. The same room has four Wrights, four Stubbs and "A view in Borrowdale" by John Rathbone (the "Manchester Wilson" 1750-1807), though this particular painting may not be the one which shows Wilson's influence most strongly. The painting by Dughet (Gaspar) in an adjacent room offers an easier comparison with Wilson than displays elsewhere (e.g. Cardiff, London and Oxford).

·  The four Italian/classical scenes in the Lady Lever are perhaps more for the specialist, since three of them are in rather poor condition and, perhaps for that reason, poorly displayed and under glass. A real treat for the Wilson enthusiast, nevertheless. The fourth, a "Tivoli: Villa of Maecenas", hangs high in the Greek Vase Room. The gallery also has landscapes by Gainsborough and Constable and the famous harvest scenes by Stubbs. Another bonus for the visitor here is the unusual atmosphere of Port Sunlight Village, built by Lord Lever next to his Soap works as a community for the factory workers.

Two Wilsons are displayed in the refurbished Manchester City Art Gallery. In room 1, the Valley of the Mawddach originally in Heaton Hall is now displayed in much better light alongside a Wright Caernarvon Castle and a Ludlow Castle by JC Ibbetson. A welcome move, even though the Liverpool version is better. In room 2, Wilson's subtle but modest Hadrian's Villa sits alongside large landscapes by Turner [Thomson's Aeolian Harp] and Claude [Adoration of the Golden Calf], with works by Dughet, Vernet and Wilson's pupil, Hodges. In the early Turner [1809], resemblances to Wilson are unusually clear in the figures, including the shepherd boy, and a special golden hue in the sky. Comparison with the adjacent Claude shows Turner's debt to this artist, but Claude's figures are more part of the action than Wilsonian decorative motifs. To have, alongside these, one of Wilson's larger and more "Claudean" canvases, such as Manchester's own "Cicero's Villa", would make a splendid and instructive display. Elsewhere in the gallery are 12 small 17thC Dutch landscapes and landscapes by Morland, Collins, Samuel Palmer and Cox. Two more of the Gallery's five Wilsons are on display elsewhere in Greater Manchester. Platt Hall on the Wilmslow Road has an important version of "On the Arno" displayed in the upstairs Dining Room in exactly the position it was commissioned for in 1764 (signed and dated). There are no other landscapes of interest in the Hall which is now a Museum of Costume. Heaton Hall in Heaton Park in the north of the city has the fine "Cicero's Villa" on display in the Dining Room, though one can't get close to it. Other 18thC landscapes on display include a George Lambert and a John Wootton in the Music Room and a William Marlow townscape "Lyon" in the Long Corridor. There are also portraits by Hogarth, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Joseph Wright and Batoni. The building itself is a good example of an elegant 18thC mansion. Wythenshawe Hall is, in contrast, a 16th and 17thC Hall of considerable architectural interest, though the "School of Wilson", a copy of the "Pembroke Castle" in Cardiff, is of no great interest, except as a reminder of Wilson's own accomplishment as a painter.

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, is displaying three very fine Wilson oils; two beautiful Roman scenes and the half-painting "Pastoral Scene with Musicians" (other half in the V & A, London). In the same small room are Vernet's "River Scene with Bathers" (there is a Vernet coast scene elsewhere) and a Tivoli landscape in the Wilson style by Joseph Wright. Claude's last painting (Ascanius and the Stag) can be seen in the adjacent room with a Dughet view of the Roman Campagna. Other landscapes of note include three Ruisdaels and a Bril, Edward Lear's "Thermopylae" and a Zuccarelli watercolour. The "Wintry landscape" by Joos de Momper is notable for its lack of resemblance to Wilson. There is also a good collection of Wilson drawings in the Print Room (appointment only).

Wilton House near Salisbury, ancestral home of the Earls of Pembroke, has no less than nine Wilsons displayed side-by-side in the Upper Cloister, which is the first room one sees but the last on the self-guided tour. There are 5 views of Wilton House, the SE view being much better than the others and having a typical Wilson glowing sky. Some of the others were once regarded as "School of Wilson" and pupils in his studio may have had a hand in them. A smaller 'sketch' of the SE view is also displayed; the SE painting was also engraved and 3 other versions exist, emphasizing its relative importance. Three smaller, but very attractive, oils are a classical ruins scene (Tomb of Horatii and Curatii) and two versions of a 'Fallen tree at Ariccia'. Nearby are 4 views of Westcombe House by George Lambert, who must have influenced Wilson's topographical work, and 2 large London views by another senior contemporary, Samuel Scott. Among the Wilsons, there is also a Zuccarelli landscape for direct comparison. Other relevant landscapes among the outstanding collection in the rest of the house include a beautiful Vernet, a Rubens, an unusual Claude and a mountain scene by Rosa. The tour is self-guided, allowing as much time as required with each painting, but helpful and informed guides are always on hand. In the Exhibition area is a Doll's House which contains two of the Wilson Wilton views in miniature.

In Edinburgh, the National Gallery once had an outstanding view by Wilson of Caernarvon Castle on loan, but that has been returned, while the Portrait Gallery has a Flora MacDonald Portrait. As befits a National Gallery, first class landscapes by Claude, Gainsborough and Constable can also be found, as well as instructive landscape work in the Titians. The Glasgow Kelvingrove Art Gallery has a very attractive version of the Anconetta on panel (though considered "very doubtful" by Constable [1953])
Not too far south of Edinburgh is the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle (near Durham) where a version of the small "River and Farmhouse" is rather poorly displayed, too high in an alcove with inadequate lighting

The Huntington Art Gallery is an oasis of European civilisation secreted at San Marino in the affluent suburbs of Los Angeles (Tues-Sun, 11 or 12-5; US$8-50 including gardens and exhibitions). The only Wilson here is the original "Bathers/cattle/ruin" landscape (Constable 99b) but it is also one of his finest. At first, the picture seems dark and poorly lit under low artificial lighting, but once the eyes have had half-an-hour to recover from the harsh California sunshine outside, the sympathetic and appropriate display can be appreciated. Other landscapes of interest include two Claudes and an important Gainsborough, as well as works by Turner and Joseph Wright of Derby, though the major attraction is the collection of British portraits by the 18thC masters.

The Birmingham City Art Gallery (UK) has one of the largest Wilson landscapes, a view of Okehampton castle in Devon. Well-displayed, though under glass. The Gallery also has a Claude (Rome near Ponte Molle) is a nearby gallery and two tiny oils by Wilson's pupil, Thomas Jones. There is also an exhibition of 18thC British water-colours (Sandby, Towne, Cozens, etc). Down the road at the centre of Birmingham University, the Barber Institute displays a charming View of the Dee with an unusual (and unusually prominent) "R.W." signature instead of the monogram, painted for Eaton Hall near Chester. More imposing landscapes in the same Gallery include a Claude, a striking Rubens, a Joseph Wright and two Gainsboroughs. There is also landscape work by Marco Ricci in a large classical painting.

The Wolverhampton Art Gallery (UK) is small but has a whole room devoted to 18thC painting. The Wilson "Niagara Falls" is hung at the bottom of the main staircase. Other landscapes include a large view in India by Hodges, "The Coming Storm" by George Morland and a Snowdon watercolour by Paul Sandby. Portraits include two large works by Gainsborough.

The Southampton City Art Gallery (UK) is currently (at least to Sep, 2003) displaying its large "Summer Evening" (or "On the Arno" or "Classical Landscape") alongside landscapes by Wright of Derby, Salvator Rosa, Turner, Bril, Morland, Ibbetson and Joos de Momper.

The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery has a large Diana and Callisto, one of 4 oils painted for Ince Hall in Lancashire. It is said to be the best of the four, though to my mind, the newly-displayed Phaeton at the Walker Gallery, Liverpool, compares very well indeed. The gallery has few other relevant landscapes, except for a William Marlow. "Worth a detour".

The Louvre (Paris) DOESN'T HAVE ANY WILSONS!!, but the 17thC French and Flemish artists who influenced Wilson are well-represented. The 11 canvases by Claude on display are mostly seascapes and port scenes, so the relationship to Wilson's work is not altogether clear from these alone. However, there are 4 large paintings on display by Joos de Momper [1564-1635] and the superficial similarity to Wilson landscapes is quite striking in some of these, though the "Momper" paintings that Wilson admired are thought to be by a quite different artist (Waterhouse, 1968). The Louvre Mompers are mountain landscapes with dramatic light effects. Several by Paul Bril in the same room. Wilson's contemporary, Vernet, is also well-represented, with 2 Roman scenes as well as 4 or 5 of his more famous Ports of France (15 of the latter are displayed in the Musee de la Marine in Paris).

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has the earliest and largest of 3 versions of Apollo and the Seasons, recently restored after damage during earlier cleaning. 17th century European landscapes on view include a Flight into Egypt by Claude and works by Bril, Both, Jan Breughel and Ruisdael. There are also two paintings by Jan van Scorel from the 1540s with a strong landscape element.

The Toledo Museum of Art is displaying one of the original versions of The White Monk in a widely-representative and impressive collection of European paintings that includes landscapes by Gainsborough, Claude, Zuccarelli and Joos de Momper.

His Birthplace

Wilson was born in Penegoes near Machynlleth. The Felin Crewi Watermill, where he is said to have been born, has been restored but is no longer open to the public. The church (completely rebuilt in 1877 and usually locked) where Wilson's father was minister is about 200 yards closer to Machynlleth and has a wall plaque commemorating Wilson. It is now believed that Wilson moved to Mold with his mother only after his father's death and only shortly before his move to London in the company of Sir George Wynne in 1729 (Baker, 1999). This view is not consistent with stories that Wilson grew up in Mold.

Colomendy Hall

The house (front-view or side-view) lies on a hillside half a mile above the Loggerheads Inn and might have had a view, now obscured by trees, of the Alyn valley illustrated in the Tate painting above. Wilson spent the last years of his life in this house which was owned by his aunt, Catherine Jones. It is in the parish of Llanferres and this accounts for earlier erroneous reports of his death in "Llanberis" in Snowdonia. The house was extensively re-built in 1810-1811 and now belongs to Liverpool City Council who run the estate as a summer camp for children of the metropolis. The exterior can be seen from a convenient public footpath through the grounds. Many Wilson paintings remained in the house until the Garnons bequest to the National Gallery in 1854; this is the origin of three or four of the paintings now in the Tate Gallery.

The Leeswood Hall connection

Wilson's early artistic aspirations were encouraged by his mother's nephew, Sir George Wynne (1700-1756), who supported Wilson financially in London for many years from 1729. Like many other local landowners,including the Grosvenors of Chester (Dukes of Westminster), the Williams-Wynns and the Mostyns, Wynne made his fortune out of lead mining, though he managed to spend it all before he died. His lasting memorial would have been the house at Leeswood Hall (map), but it has since been re-built; it cost £40,000 and its magnificent iron gates alone were said to have cost £1,500. (The White Gates are still below the Hall on the Mold-Leeswood road, but the Black Gates that were once on the old Mold-Wrexham Road were removed in 1986, restored by CADW and now stand at the entrance to Tower, in full view on the Mold-Nercwys road. [map: information from Mold Reference Library]). An old story that he spent £35,000 on getting himself elected to Parliament in 1734 is now disputed and a figure of about £4,000 is considered more accurate. He sat with Walpole's Whig party in the House of Commons and was considered an upstart by the local Tory aristocracy, including Walpole's bitter enemy, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn. Williams-Wynn was leader of the North Wales Jacobite Club, the Cycle of the White Rose, and succeeded to the baronetcy in 1740. The Jacobite cause was perhaps an expression of his extreme Toryism and his commitment should not be taken too literally, since he failed to rally to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s standard during the ’45, when the Pretender’s troops reached Derby (a mere 50 miles from Wynnstay). It was his son of the same name who commissioned paintings of the Wynnstay estate from Wilson in 1769. By 1740, Sir George's mines at Halkyn were no longer profitable and his ruin was finally ensured by the fall of Walpole's regime in the election of 1742. As noted by Solkin (1982), Wilson's increased productivity from the mid-1740s may not be unconnected with the end of Sir George's ability to subsidise him; few of Wilson's datable paintings are pre-1744. Note: Constable (1953) is full of errors in his short paragraph on the George Wynne connection (p. 16). This account is based on Thomas (1962).

Wilson's cousin, Charles Pratt.

Charles Pratt, was the son of Wilson's father's sister, Elisabeth Wilson, who married Sir John Pratt. Charles is thought to have been instrumental in getting portrait commissions for Wilson in the 1740s. As a friend of William Pitt (the Elder), Charles Pratt was to play an important role in British history. Pitt fought the popular Seven Years War against France but he was displaced after the accession of George III in 1760 and peace was concluded in 1763 by his successor, Lord Bute. (Bute, incidentally, was a great art-lover and an early collector of the landscapes of Albert Cuyp that Wilson so much admired).
The Member of Parliament, John Wilkes, railed against the Peace in his pamphlet, the "North Briton", and popular pressure forced Bute to resign. In issue No. 45 in 1763, Wilkes accused the new Prime Minister, George Grenville, of putting lies into the King's mouth in his speech before Parliament. The King was furious and ordered the prosecution for treasonable libel of "that Devil Wilkes", who was arrested and placed in the Tower of London.
Avoiding the unsympathetic court of the King's Bench, Pitt's followers applied for a writ of Habeas Corpus to the Court of Common Pleas, where sat none other than Pitt's friend, Sir Charles Pratt. After a struggle by the King's ministers, Wilkes was brought before Mr. Justice Pratt and released (on rather a technicality) to cries of "Wilkes and Liberty" from the waiting London crowds. Pratt later awarded Wilkes £1,000 in damages for the seizure of his private papers by the government.
Pratt also followed Pitt in his support for American Independence, saying in 1764 "It is impossible that this petty island can continue in dependence that mighty continent, increasing daily in numbers and strength".
When Pitt was finally called back to lead the government in 1766, he made Pratt, now Lord Camden, his Lord Chancellor. Pratt remained in government when Pitt resigned in 1768 but was dismissed for his continued support of Pitt in 1770. After Richard Wilson's death, Pratt returned to government as Lord, and later Earl, Camden and served in the cabinets of Pitt's son, William Pitt the Younger. Pratt died in 1794, not living to see young Mr. Pitt defend his country against the Napoleonic threat and, in the process, introduce some of the most repressive and restrictive laws that Britain has ever suffered (pre-Thatcher).

·  J.S. Watson (1960) The Reign of George III. OUP, Oxford.

·  R.J. White (1968) The Age of George III. Heinemann, London

Wilson in Italy and Pompeii Frescoes

It is co-incidental that the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum were just beginning during the period in the 1750s that Wilson spent in Naples and the Roman Campagna. Frescoes from nearly 2,000 years ago in the National Archeological Museum in Naples display an attitude to figure painting that is not dissimilar to Wilson's, in the way that people and animals are subsidiary to the landscape.

 

Wilson was careful to make sure that his figures, while serving their purpose, did not intrude on the landscape that was the main substance of his paintings. The figures in Poussin (who had a very different purpose), and even in Claude, might distract in a Wilson landscape. As indeed they do, in Wilson's more dramatic works, like "Niobe" and "Ceyx and Alcyone", where the figures were often added by other artists.

Burial place of Wilson and family: Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Mold.

 

This shows the church before 1958 when the row of houses to the right, which obscured the church from the High Street, were demolished. The church has a 19th/20thC memorial window to Wilson in the north aisle. Click here to see the inscription at the base of the windows, or click here to read a transcription of it.
(Click image for larger view)

·  Visit the church website: history and architecture.

·  This view of 1908 shows the graveyard which at that time lay between the church and the High Street on the south side. Many of the old gravestones have since been moved to the other side of the church, the churchyard having a long history of "improvements" in the interest of sanitation (Bell-Jones). According to Bell-Jones, however, Wilson's grave was always on the north side of the church.

·  Wilson's tomb and his mother's gravestone now lie side-by-side near the north entrance to the church (the left side on the photograph). According to Wright (1824), Wilson was originally interred at this position, but the gravestone was added later by the Garnons family. For a translation of the Welsh inscription, click here. The picture shows the demolition of the row of houses in 1958.

Bibliography

·  FIVE CORE STUDIES:
Constable, W.G. Richard Wilson. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953. The standard work.
Ford, Brinsley. The Drawings of Richard Wilson. London, Faber & Faber, 1951.
Bury, Adrian. Richard Wilson, R.A. The Grand Classic. Leigh-on-Sea: F. Lewis, 1947.
Solkin, David H. Richard Wilson. The Landscape of Reaction. London: Tate Gallery, 1982. Catalogue of the bicentennial exhibition; emphasizes the social and historical perspective of the paintings.
Martin Postle and Robin Simon (eds.) Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting. Yale Centre for British Art, 2014. Catalogue of the tercentenary exhibition and a source of the latest research.

·  ·  OTHER BOOKS:
Wright, T. (1824) Some Account of the Life of Richard Wilson, Esq., R.A.
Fletcher, B. The Makers of British Art: Richard Wilson, R.A. London: Walter Scott Pub.Co., 1908.
Interesting, but inaccurate: all factual content to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Rutter, F. Wilson and Farington: British Artists Series, London, Allan, 1923.
Hayes, J. The Masters. 57: Richard Wilson. Bristol, Purnell, 1966.
Sixteen large colour prints, with an introduction.
Wilton, A., Guite, A & Feigen, RL Richard Wilson and the British Arcadia (Feigen exhibition catalogue, New York, 2010)
Solkin, DH (2004)Richard Wilson in "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" Online: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29680

Links

·  National Museum of Wales An 18th century Painter at work - The techniques of Richard Wilson Information about Wilson's painting techniques

References

·  Bell-Jones, W. (?post-1946). The Story of the Parish Church of St. Mary, Mold.
R.A.Stanley. (1987) Loggerheads in Old Postcards. Clwyd County Council.
Kidson, A. (1999) Earlier British Paintings in the
Lady Lever Art Gallery. NMGM.
P.D.G. Thomas (1962) Sir George Wynne and the
Flint Borough Elections of 1727-1741. J. Flintshire Historical Society vol. 20, pp. 39-57.
R. Baker (1999) The Family of Richard Wilson. J. Flintshire Historical Society vol. 34, pp. 85-114.