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The White Monk - III
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo MMFA. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The White Monk - III
Oil on canvas
99.8 x 121 cm
40 x 50 in.
Northbrook; with Leggatt, London, 1933; Lord Forteviot; with Leggatt, London, 1952; purchased by Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, John W. Tempest Fund, 1952
The subject and thence the meaning remain open to multiple interpretations. Solkin memorably explained its attraction as a moral landscape by an emblematic interpretation of the Platonic philosophical concept of concordia discors, or the harmonious union of opposing elements, where 'the chaotic multiplicity of nature has yielded to the ordering hand of art.' (Solkin 1982, p. 66). He saw the inclusion of monks on the promontory as reassurance of a world anchored in divinely ordained harmony and reinforcing the moral certitude and authority of the patrician class who patronised the artist.
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P144 Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - I, Toledo Museum of Art
P144A Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782) and Studio, The White Monk - I, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
NWP144E Ascribed to Wilson, The White Monk - I, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea
P144F Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - I, Private Collection
P145 Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - II, The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston
P145A Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - II, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
P145B Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - II, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton
P147 Studio of Wilson, The White Monk - IV, Royal Academy of Arts, London
P147A Ascribed to Wilson, The White Monk - IV (Italian Landscape, with white Monk), Museums Sheffield
As noted by Postle, Wilson in this composition establishes a characteristic contrast between the constrictions of organised religion and the dolce far niente symbolised by the relaxed figures in the foreground. Postle also posited a more exact setting than previously acknowledged, e.g. by Constable, who recorded that it had sometimes been identified as Tivoli or a lower part of the Aniene gorge. He proposed the upper Aniene valley, looking east towards the Prenestini mountains and the rocky outcrops of Mentorella and Guadagnolo. This is an area associated historically with a chain of Benedictine monasteries, thus providing context for the presence of monks on the promontory. The White Monk was the most frequently repeated of all Wilson's compositions, a classic 'good breeder' as the artist described them (Wright 1824, p. 33). In this third of three main variants of the composition, two women are shown seated on the ground with (exceptionally) a man standing behind them and there is a sapling to the left of the trees at the right. A wayside cross is silhouetted at the extremity of the cliffs with religious figures in prayer before it. At the summit is a gabled building.

The title, The White Monk, was applied first to a print made from a different version of the composition, then belonging to Lady Ford and published in Hastings 1825.
WGC, p. 228 pl. 123a type III, version 2; The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts: Painting, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, 1960
The large number of known versions of The White Monk confirm it as one of Wilson's most popular pictures - well over 30 survive, including those made by studio assistants and copyists. All seem to have been executed in Britain after the painter's return from Italy in 1757 and most of them after 1765, when an engraving was published by James Roberts. Nevertheless the composition does not seem to have been exhibited. Three main variant compositions were defined by Constable and the present compiler has retained his sytem, entitling them The White Monk - I, etc.