Landscape Legacy

Article excerpt

THE Royal Cambrian Academy of Art has an enviable record of staging important historical exhibitions, a practice continued with panache at its purpose-built gallery in Conwy into which it moved in 1992.

The latest, showing paintings by the great landscape painter Richard Wilson RA (1713-82), brings together the largest group of works by the artist since the Tate Gallery bicentenary exhibition of 1982.

Twenty important oil paintings by the artist and associated drawings will be hung alongside a group of works which demonstrate Wilson's influence on painters and patrons in the late 18th and the 19th centuries. These include pictures by his contemporary John Lewis, and by his pupil Thomas Jones, previously not seen by the public.

The core of the exhibition is formed by works drawn from the remarkable collection of art connoisseur, collector and patron Sir Richard Brinsley Ford (1908-1999), who wrote the definitive monograph on Wilson and his work in 1951. The paintings were largely accumulated in the artist's own lifetime by Ford's ancestor, the connoisseur Benjamin Booth (1732-1807).

Booth came from the Grand Tour school of collectors and built an unsurpassed collection of Wilson's landscapes, while Ford became an authority on both subjects. Other lenders include the National Museum of Wales and National Library of Wales.

A high quality bilingual catalogue to the exhibition will stand as a lasting contribution to Wilson scholarship. It reproduces in colour for the first time the works from the Ford Collection, while the text, by Peter Lord, one of Wales' foremost art historians, reveals aspects of Wilson's life that have not previously been the subject of scholarly attention.

Mr Lord points out that biographical details about Richard Wilson are scant. It is believed he was born near Machynlleth in 1713, the son of the parish vicar, although some believe he was born in Flintshire.

It is generally agreed that on the death of his father in 1729, and with the financial support of Sir George Wynne of Leeswood, Wilson was apprenticed to a portrait painter in London named Thomas Wright.

Wilson subsequently developed a moderately successful career as a portraitist in London. Among his clients was John Myddelton of Chirk Castle who commissioned him to paint his portrait in 1738 for which he was paid a substantial pounds 6 16s 6d.

In 1750, Wilson embarked on a seven-year visit to Italy, during which time he decided to turn to landscape painting, producing pictures of extensive views adorned with classical ruins and imaginary landscapes. …