Oil painting

Landscape Composition: River Mouth with Peasants Dancing

1770s (painted)

Wilson, Richard

Height: 33.75 in estimate, Width: 47.75 in estimate, Height: 107 cm Frame, Width: 142 cm Frame

42-1880 PDP

Oil painting, Richard Wilson, 'Landscape Composition: River Mouth with Peasants Dancing'.

Purchased, 1880 The Dept. file notes that "no. 42-1880 was recommended by E J Poynter for purchase, together with no.43-1880 by W. Hodges [William Hodges (1744-97) was a pupil and studio assistant of Richard Wilson. He remained a friend of Wilson until the latter's death.] E. J. Poynter was Director for Art with responsibility for purchasing paintings to support the work of the V&A (then called the South Kensington Museum) in its role as part of the 'Department of Science and Art', and home of the 'National Art Training Schools'. Taken from MacDonald, Stuart. The History & Philosophy of Art Education. Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 2004. Appendix concerning 'Early Government Schools of Art in Great Britain', p.383. 'The Normal, Central or Head School of Design', was established at Somerset House (London) in 1837. This became 'The Central Training School' at Marlborough House (1852), then at South Kensington (1857), renamed 'The National Art Training Schools' (1863), reconstituted as 'The Royal College of Art' (1896) which moved into new buildings at Kensington Gore in 1962. The School of Design was founded in the 1830s to improve British industrial design. From its formation in the 1850s, the South Kensington Museum, as a part of the governmental 'Department of Science and Art', made many acquisitions to support the school, which from 1857 was based at South Kensington, and from 1863 was called the 'National Art Training Schools'. Hansard [HC Deb 07 June 1883 vol 279 cc1910-1] records a question addressed to the Vice President of the Committee of Council for Education in June 1883, as to 'whether purchases of pictures for the South Kensington Museum have been recently made; and, if so, whether it is intended to establish at that institution a second national collection of pictures, in addition to that of the National Gallery; and, if such be the case, by whose recommendation, and on whose judgment, the purchases of pictures for South Kensington have been made?'. In response it was noted that many paintings were acquired '...for use as examples for students in the Art Training Schools, and for circulation among the Schools of Art in the country. The purchases have been made on the recommendation of the Director for Art-at one time Mr. Redgrave-then Mr. Poynter-now Mr. Armstrong'. [Richard Redgrave (1804-1888); Edward Poynter (1836-1919); Thomas Armstrong (1832-1911). All were painters and works by them are in the V&A]. Historical significance: Richard Wilson was a Welsh painter who had studied in Italy. Dutch landscape painting, particularly the work of Aelbert Cuyp, also influenced him. Wilson's patrons were the wealthy elite who sent their sons on the Grand Tour. He had begun as a portraitist, but in about 1752 gave up portrait painting in favour of landscapes. He continued to paint landscapes in the Italian manner even after he returned to Britain. Wilson was a founder member of the Royal Academy and enjoyed considerable success until the early 1770s. Although his career then went into decline, his treatment of landscape strongly influenced the next generation of artists, particularly J.M.W. Turner. Note on Departmental file for 42-1880: "W.G. [William George] Constable [author of Richard Wilson, Routledge and Paul, 1953] expresses the verbal opinion that this picture is a shop piece." W.G. Constable, Richard Wilson, Routledge and Paul, 1953, pl.105a (River Mouth : Peasants Dancing ('Evening') II) cf. also pp.92 and 216. "Accepted as authentic" - "rubbed and apparently repainted in places". Note on Departmental file for 42-1880: "[42-1880 was] seen by Mr Brinsley Ford [author of The Drawings of Richard Wilson, London, Faber and Faber, 1951] and Mr Douglas Cooper on 3/6/48. There seemed no reason to doubt the authenticity of this picture. Perhaps the sky has been repainted. They said that there is a related drawing in the Ashmolean...". The Dept. file notes a number of other versions and sketches in private hands or which appeared in the sale rooms. See David H. Solkin, Richard Wilson: The Landscape of Reaction, The Tate Gallery, 1982, cat. no. 139, pp. 243-4 [Cat. 139 refers to a painting in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford "Pastoral Scene with Musicians by a Classical Ruin", which Solkin argues is the other half of a V&A painting (Museum number 246-1878), and that if the two halves were joined together they would form a variant of V&A Museum number 42-1880, which is itself one of a number of variants by Wilson of this scene (another variant is in the Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, [Neue Pinakothek] Munich, reproduced in Solkin, p.244, fig. 22]. In his catalogue entry for the Ashmolean painting Solkin discusses the subject matter of the Munich "River Mouth with Peasants Dancing", of which 42-1880 is another version: "... If these two works could be reunited, with the Oxford landscape [Asmolean Museum Id no. WA 1962.17.30] to the left of the other [V&A 246-1878], they would form a somewhat less than complete version (1) of a Wilson composition generally known as 'River Mouth with Peasants Dancing', examples of which belong to the V&A (2) [Museum number 42-1880] and to the Neue Pinakothek in Munich (fig.22). The Munich painting can probably be identified, on the basis of its size and its subject, with a work that Joseph Farington saw in Richard Entwistle's collection at Rousham in 1808; according to Farington, "The Scene represented (I understood) somewhat near Naples" (3). An unknown nineteenth-century writer later referred to the identical oil as a "Scene on the Coast of Baia" (4). The association of this landscape [and also V&A 42-1880] with the area just north of Naples makes a certain amount of sense, though Wilson's picture[s] should probably be seen as a generalised evocation, and not as a precise topographical view. Baiae was renowned in the eighteenth century for the profusion of its Roman remains. To quote from a contemporary guide-book, "This was one of the pleasantest places in the world, famous for its hot baths and palaces in the time of the romans, or which there is now only the miserable ruins... In fine, all the country about Pozzolo [i.e. Pozzuoli] and Baia, which was so beautifully laid out by the romans in groves and gardens, and covered with temples and palaces, has been so miserably torn to pieces by subterraneous fires and earthquakes, that the whole face of it is entirely changed, and it retains only the ruins of its antient splendor [sic], and a great magnificence in confusion" (5). By the Imperial Age this region had become perhaps the most popular of all tourist resorts: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Pliny, Cicero, and Pompey, to mention only a few of the more celebrated names, all possessed Viallas here. In addition, the gulf of Pozzuoli on which Baiae is situated was also celebrated in Virgil's Aeneid, and provided the locale for Homer's Cimmerians. Hence we can understand why this section of the italian coast commanded so much attention from English Grand Toursits, and from their patrician counterparts at home. Baiae and its immediate environs provided Wilson with subjects for several of his paintings, few of which adhere very closely to actual appearances. The area was ideally suited to serve as a vehicle for one of his favourite themes: that combining roman glory in decay on the one hand, and Arcadian perfection on the other. As a typical example of the genre, the [now divided Oxford/V&A] 'Pastoral Scene' offered its viewers a symbolic refuge of rural simplicity, wherein they could contemplate the tragic example of a lost civilisation; at the same time, Wilson's classical image offered them the reassurance that order and culture might still be preserved, if man profited from the lessons of antiquity and adhered to its traditions. The 'River Mouth with Peasants Dancing' appears to have been one of the painter's last major articulations of a subject that had preoccupied him ever since he had visited Italy. All the known versions of this design display those distinct patches of colour lying loosely side by side, and those numerous accentuations in free strokes of rich impasto, which are so characteristic of his seventies' works. By this time, Wilson seems on the whole to have moved away from the finely-drawn and descriptive style of his previous decade towards a manner which suggests forms in more painterly, and less precise terms. (1) The missing areas include a narrow vertical strip between the two fragments, as well as at least two and one-half inches of sky in the V&A piece. (2) See Constable, pl.105a (3) Farington, Diary, 15 December 1808, Grieg ed., v, p.107 (4) this reference, found in an interleaved copy of Pilkington's Dictionary of Painters, is recorded by Constable, p.196. (5) Nugent, Grand Tour, III, pp.406, 408

Location: In Storage

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