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View near Wynnstay, the Seat of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
View near Wynnstay, the Seat of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn
1770-71 (undated)
Oil on canvas
180.3 x 244.8 cm
71 x 96 3/8 in.
B1976.7.84
P166
This painting depicts part of the Wynn estate, looking westwards downstream along the River Dee, into the Vale of Llangollen with its prominent hilltop fortress of Dinas Bran silhouetted against the horizon. Robin Simon first identified Wilson's vantage point as a rock above a cliff at Nant y Belan at the edge of Wynnstay Park. In the middle distance the 'New Bridge' over the river may be seen, while further away is apparently Trefor Hall, the neighbouring estate to Wynnstay. Behind Dinas Bran the mountains of the north-eastern range of Snowdonia are visible. The boy in the left forerground is offering the dog bread while the girl holds back a stick. There are no birds in the sky. Between the tree trunks at the left, figures can be seen in a boat on the River Dee.
RA 1771 (221); BI 1814 (129/132 A View near Llangothlen, North Wales); Suffolk Street 1833 (5); BI 1848 (139); Manchester 1857 (162); London 1870 (1); Wrexham 1876 (394); RA Old Masters 1888 (152 or 158); Agnew 1926 (4); London 1934 (211); Birmingham 1948-49 (63); London 1949 (62); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (132); Tercentenary 2014 (82)
Commissioned by Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn (1748-1789), probably just after he came of age in 1769; thence by descent to Sir Owen Watkin Williams-Wynn (1891-1949); Thomas Agnew and Sons Ltd., from whom purchased by Paul Mellon, 1971; Presented to the Yale Center for British Art, 1976
Unsigned; no inscription
The painting is almost monochromatic, using a minimum of colours, a pale leaf green and pale blue sky predominating, without the bright turquoise blue often used in Wilson's later works. Solkin noted the closeness in modelling of the rock-faces of the present work to that of P175 Lydford Waterfall, Tavistock. Wilson's effects of space and light are achieved with a flickering and varied chiaroscuro, as in the rocky outcrop to the right. From this sense of variation of the surface of things rendered into thin and thick oil paint, Turner and Girtin would learn much, which they first practised in watercolour and then, in Turner's case, translated into oil. Wilson's figures are very rococo and approximate, even though on a large scale. The perspective of the river to the left is unreliable. The trees are painted within reserves. Some areas of highlight are very broad, for example the rocks to the right.
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Francis Jukes after Thomas Walmsley, View of Nantybelan, 1794, etching and aquatint, The British Museum (1865.0610.1058)
The influence of Claude Lorrain is apparent in the placing of the bridge over the River Dee, while that of Gaspard Dughet may be seen in the framing devices used, the feeling of the ground falling away, the landscape stretching to the distance, with the central motif of the figures on horseback disappearing downwards behind a hill, the contrast between the illuminated textured rock nearby and a general distant vista. The figures on the left seem to be influenced by the late style of Gainsborough and their activities, with the girl preventing the seated man from teasing and beating the dog, are untypical for Wilson. As David Solkin has remarked, these peasants seem to exist as freemen on the bounty of the Creator - Dinas Bran in the distance, acting as a reminder of beneficent aristocratic rule. Glowing light from the left, looking westwards up the Vale of Llangollen, shows that the picture is timed at evening, with the smoke of evening meals rising throughout the valley. This is deliberately complementary to P165 Dinas Bran from Llangollen I, where the light comes from the right, indicating early morning.
Object ID: 313
Pennant 1784, vol. 1, p. 305; Booth Notes, National Library of Wales; Wright 1824, p. 272; Country Life, 4 December 1926, p. 881; Commemorative Catalogue 1934 (103, pl. XXXVIII); Bury 1947, p. 73; WGC, pp. 44, 73, 94, 109, 190, pl. 62b; Ford 1951, p. 38; Constable 1954, p. 140; Hayes 1965-67, (IV) April 1967, pp. 258-59, fig. 8; Solkin 1982, pp. 130-32, 237-38; Denys Sutton, 'Principles and Priorities in British Art', Apollo, September 1985, pl. III; Art in Context: Richard Wilson - View of Llangollen with Dinas Bran, View near Wynnstay, looking towards Dinas Bran, 26 April 1983, Yale Center for British Art, unpublished text; Klonk, Charlotte, Science and the Perception of Nature; British Landscape Art in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, 1999, New Haven & London, p. 10; Rosenthal, Michael, The Art of Thomas Gainsborough, New Haven & London, 1999, p. 204; Bonehill and Daniels, 2009, p. 220, fig. 49; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 267.
Thomas Pennant described the view in 1773: 'Nanty Bele or the Dingle of the Martin ... merits a visit from every traveller. From a rock at its extremity, is a magnificent view of the Dee, rolling awefully in a deep chasm ringed by woods ... Towards the north is a great view of the conic mountain, and the rude fortress of Dinas Bran, rising amidst a fertile vale, and bounded by the barren Alps'. The present work and its pendant P165 were painted for Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, who paid £50 on account to Wilson for the two large landscapes in February 1770. The bill for the final payment of £210 each was tendered in June 1770 and paid on 3 July 1771 after the two paintings had been exhibited at the Royal Academy. According to Benjamin Booth, this large view near Wynnstay was painted in a tent on the spot. Both P166 and P165 may be taken to express painter's and patron's shared 'hiraeth' or feeling for their Welsh homeland.
Diagonal weave canvas. Foam backboard. There are pentimenti around the lively group of figures playing with the dog at the left, where Wilson strove to express greater happiness by a more accurate tilt of the head and the eagerness of the dog to be fed.
Kate Lowry has noted: Stretcher size: 71 x 96 ½ ins (1804mm x 2452 mm). Painted canvas same size. Simple weave. Turnover edges removed at time of relining. Present lining turnovers covered with paper tape. Remains of primed turnover visible at upper left edge shows the presence of a warm commercially prepared ground, perhaps slightly less pink than P165 Dinas Bran near Llangollen ground. Stretcher: dates from relining. Square mortice joints with provision for keying out. All keys present and taped. Not much keyed out. Cross members: 2 verticals and 1 three part horizontal). Craquelure shows the original stretcher had four members with one vertical cross-member and four corner braces, similar to P165. Paint film: Forms generally have much softer edges than those in P165. Same brightness of sky around the foliage masses and tree trunks/branches against the sky. Sky paint opaque in central area but thinner around margins leaving warm ground showing through. XRF of sky was inconclusive for ultramarine; possibly contains Prussian blue. 2 ins strip either vertical edge shows lighter than remainder of painting possibly due to a previous different framing, as for P165. Under UV many small retouches visible over varnish so a lot of zinc showed up on XRF. Reds showed as mixes of red earth and vermilion; yellows and yellow-browns include Naples yellow. Green foliage shows iron and copper containing pigments.