Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting

Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting

Article excerpt

Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting

National Museum Wales, Cardiff, until 26 October

'I recollect nothing so much as a solemn -- bright -- warm -- fresh landscape by Wilson, which swims in my brain like a delicious dream,' wrote Constable of his encounter with the Welsh artist's 'Tabley House, Cheshire' after he visited the gallery of that house owned by Sir John Leicester. Recalling this epiphany, Constable went on to say of Richard Wilson: 'He was one of the great appointments to shew to the world what exists in nature but which was not known till his time.'

Turner, too, was an ardent Wilson admirer and as a young man set out on a reverential pilgrimage to Wales, seeking out his birthplace at Penegoes below the peak of Cader Idris and following 'in the footsteps of Wilson' to those places amid the wild mountainscapes of North Wales that Wilson had captured for the first time in paint.

Wilson not only inspired these two great English landscape painters, his influence was also widely felt on the Continent and in the colonies, as this splendid exhibition, the first devoted to Wilson in more than 30 years, reveals as never before. Expertly and elegantly curated by Robin Simon and Martin Postle, the show of over 160 works by Wilson, his contemporaries and followers, has travelled on to Cardiff from the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven and celebrates the 300th anniversary of the artist's birth.

Wilson received an excellent classical education from his clergyman father and was well connected with the Welsh gentry. After his father died in 1728, his art education in London was paid for by Sir George Wynne, one of his mother's nephews, who had become immensely rich from the discovery of lead on his land. Wilson's contacts among Wales's elite smoothed the way for local commissions for portraits, a genre in which he proved competent if unremarkable.

His career was utterly transformed by his decision to send himself on his own Grand Tour to Italy in 1750, the point at which the current exhibition begins. Wilson tried his hand in Venice at painting landscapes. In Rome he was further inspired by Claude Lorrain and Gaspard Dughet, who had previously painted in the city. After the leading French landscape artist Claude-Joseph Vernet 'expressed surprise that a landscape painter of such ability should have wasted time in painting portraits', Wilson decided to devote himself exclusively to this calling.

As the impressive array of Wilson's Italian works on show here confirms, he found his own style in this new genre with surprising rapidity. …

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