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Richard Wilson

The White Monk


Richard Wilson
Penegoes, Wales, 1714 – Llanberis, Wales, 1782


The White Monk


About 1770


Oil on canvas


99.8 x 121 cm


Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund, inv. 1952.1078


Western Art

Wilson played a crucial role in the development of English landscape painting in the eighteenth century, setting the stage and a favourable market for the future works of Constable and Turner. Travel to Rome exposed him to the seventeenth-century masters Claude and Rosa, examples of whose art he continued to study after his return to England. He tremendously admired Claude for the atmosphere found in his work. Wilson turned to his own memories of Italy to execute landscapes in which classical ruins are scattered in the Claudian spirit, with an intimacy similar to the British countryside, as seen here. Figures sit beneath the trees and the artist has added a cross, and a kneeling monk on the cliff edge. The actual location seems to be a gorge of the Aniene River at Tivoli, with a northern lookout towards the church of San Antonio. The view is guided by the cascading water, and then the highlighted church complex catches the eye before it ascends over the distant hills to the remarkable complex of cumulus clouds, the lighting effects reminiscent of Rosa.

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