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River Scene with Bathers, Cattle and Ruin
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
River Scene with Bathers, Cattle and Ruin
c.1763-65 (undated)
Oil on canvas
91.8 x 145.2 cm
36 1/8 x x 57 1/8 in.
34.3
P116
Before a calm wide river dominated by a domed ancient ruin three male bathers are embarking on or returning from a swim. Birds are grouped in the sky, silhouetted against the bank to the left, next to the tree and below the tower on the right. There are fishermen with rods on the riverbank, mid-left and two groups fishing from boats behind the bathers are drawing in a drag net. The golden rosy back-lighting effects in the sky behind the hills and trees to the right are ethereal. On the right banks of the river a variety of cattle, sheep, a goat and their shadows are masterfully observed.
(Probably commissioned by) Sir John Boyd 1st Bart (1718-1800), Danson Park, Kent; his sale, Peter Coxe, Burrell and Foster, 88, Pall Mall, London, 7 May 1805 (19 or 57); [...] with Frost & Reed; 11 June 1931 with Thomas Agnew & Sons [#J2003]; purchased by the Henry E. Huntington Art Gallery, 6 April 1934
Unsigned; no inscription
Off-white ground, moderately thick and smoothly applied. The sky is brought down to the horizon line as often but there are no signs of the usual reserves beneath the trees.
[1] Right vertical stretcher bar, lower corner, inscribed in blue chalk: C845
[1] Upper horizontal member of stretcher, printed label: Thos Agnew and Sons, Ltd | No. 7828 | FINE ARTS PUBLISHERS TO HIS MAJESTY | LONDON | 43, OLD BOND STREET | PICCADILLY, W.
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P112 View in Windsor Great Park National Museum Wales, Cardiff for compositional similarities
J.M.W. Turner, watercolour (T.B. XXXIII-I, Tate, London)
It has been noted that Wilson demonstrated his classical knowledge by placing the semi-recumbent bather in a pose frequently adopted in representations of ancient water gods, such as the sculptures of Marforio and Nile in Rome, thus blurring the distinction between ancient and modern times and conjuring associations with the classical shepherds who inhabited the mystical realm of Arcadia. Furthermore, as observed by David Solkin, the dominating presence of the Temple of Minerva Medica, a clearly identifiable Roman ruin transposed into a generalised setting reminiscent of the Italian lakes, together with the inclusion of a modern townscape, complete with church spire gives the picture something of the character of a capriccio. It thus introduces an element of temporal change that stands in contrast to the ostensibly timeless Arcadian scene enacted in the foreground.
C.H. Collins Baker, Burlington Magazine, April 1936, p. 165; WGC, p. 213, pl. 99b; R.R. Wark, Ten British Pictures 1740-1840, The Huntington Library, San Marino, 1971, pp. 93-99; S. Bennett and R. Asleson, British Paintings at The Huntington, Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 516-18, cat. 116.
The painting's first owner, Sir John Boyd, was a sugar merchant and vice-chairman of the British East India Company. Made a baronet in 1775, he went on a late Grand Tour in 1775-76 and amassed a large collection of paintings, drawings and antiquities, sold after his death by his son. A Palladian mansion, Danson Hill (now Danson House) was designed for him by Sir Robert Taylor and built from 1763 at Welling, Kent, now in the London Borough of Bexley. It was sold in 1806 to John Johnston of Ballee, County Down.
Displayed in an English carved and gilded plain hollow frame of the later 18th century with alternating acanthus leaf and shield moulding and pin and ribbon twist. The painted area measures 91 x 144.5 cm (35 13/16 x 56 11/16 in.) Good condition overall - the surface is free of any major damage. Glue-lined to a plain-weave linen. The impasto has been flattened as a result of the lining process. The painting was sent to the Getty Center from September 2004 to April 2005 for study and treatment by Mark Leonard. X-radiographs taken then showed numerous minor pentimenti, notably in the tree branches at the upper right corner and in the group of bathers at the lower centre. The profiles of the banks at the water's edge and some of the animals in that area were also moved during the course of painting. The canvas was stretched onto a new stretcher in 2004. Backed in corrugated blue board.
26/08/2021