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An Italian Landscape, Morning; (River, Sea Coast and circular Ruin)
Private Collection, England / Photograph by Raymond Farnworth
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
An Italian Landscape, Morning; (River, Sea Coast and circular Ruin)
c.1760-65 (undated)
Oil on canvas
80 x 101.6 cm
31 1/2 x 40 in.
Private Collection, England
P92
A classical landscape, with a man and two women conversing by a lake or river on a high bank near an open sarcophagus with antique medallion motif in the left foreground. To the right are two arches of a ruined bridge with a ruined circular building above and behind. A carefully observed Italian building with campanile appears among trees to the left before a mountain in the distance. A prominent tower or light-house on a cliff-top illuminated by diagonal rays of sunlight beyond overlooks a wide expanse of sea with ships distantly discernible.
The Revd Thomas Shaw, Wolverhampton and Claverly; 1780 bt for £10-10-0 by Sir Samuel Hellier (1736-1784), Wombourne, Wolverhampton; bequeathed to the Revd Thomas Shaw (Shaw-Hellier from 1786; died 1812); thence by descent
Fictively engraved on the small rock, lower right: RW [monogram, the R reversed]
The fictive engraving style of signature is unusual for the artist.
The exact location of the view has been much debated and the scene has long been considered a capriccio centred on the so-called Temple of Venus at Baia near Naples (but see Critical Commentary below). The marble sarcophagus in the foreground is very much an invention of Wilson's and cannot be considered conventional in form, with its square shape, flat open top and oval decoration.
D271 Bay of Baiae - Temple of Venus, Victoria & Albert Museum (Dyce.647)
E64 William Sherlock after Wilson, River, Sea-Coast and circular Ruin ('Morning'), The British Museum (1873,0809.1415) and other impressions
E72/14 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, Temple of Venus with Part of the Bay of Baiae, The British Museum (1854,0708.71) and other impressions
E72/40 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, Landscape (River, Sea Coast and circular Ruin), The British Museum
E73 Samuel Reynolds after Wilson, Morning, The British Museum (1879,0614.334) and other impressions
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The composition has been known under several titles, notably The Temple of Venus at Baiae but at first sight the temple does not seem to be the same building as in D271 or in the famous Turner painting of the Bay of Baiae in Tate, London (N00505). However, Robin Simon has recently observed that the building is in fact the same (actually baths rather than a temple) but seen from the opposite side, revealing the ruined open aspect of the structure. He further has identified the landscape in the middle distance as resembling the view looking out from the Bay of Pozzuoli and the town of Baia towards Naples - an area much favoured by Wilson. Another version, P92A River, Sea Coast and circular Ruin, Private Collection, England, was mistakenly described as Vale of Narni when exhibited in 1925 at the Tate Gallery. The present work is typical of those Wilson produced in the decade or so after his return to London from Italy in 1759. It retains the freshness and delicacy of handling that mark the canvases painted in Italy, together with the brilliance and heightening of colours that are characteristic of his pictures c.1758-65.
Cunningham 1829, repr. opp. p. 202; unrecorded in WGC; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 283
A handwitten account receipted by the Revd Thomas Shaw on 13 March 1780 in the owner's possession gives the original purchase price of the picture as £10.10s.0d. Additional costs are listed as for a large packing case - 16s.0d; porterage and cart - 3s.0d; packing case for a frame - 9s.0d.
Sight size framed: 76.5 x 97.8 cm (30 1/8 x 38 1/2 in.).
Kate Lowry has noted: The painting was viewed on the wall in its frame. The gilt compo frame is fairly ornate with rococo-style corner and centre decorations, probably Victorian. The frame is unglazed and not backed. It was unglazed and refitted by Daphne Phillips in the 1980s. The painting is held in the frame with paper tape and spring clips. The reverse was viewed by lifting the painting away from the wall. There are no inscriptions or labels on the reverse of either the frame or the stretcher.
Stretcher is not original and dates from the glue relining, probably carried out in the twentieth century. It has seven members, square mortice joints and provision for keying out.
The original canvas is simple weave, medium weight. The lining canvas is a fine weave linen. The lining appears to be in good condition and canvas tension is good. The original turnover edges and the attachment to the stretcher could not be examined as they are hidden by the frame rebate and the paper tape at reverse. A circa 5cm long '7'-shaped tear to the original canvas at centre right, below the temple ruin, predates the present lining and the lining may have been carried out to repair this particular damage. The tear damage has been filled and retouched. The colour of the original priming or ground is hard to determine without access to the edges of the painting, but is probably white or pale-grey, as it does not appear to be a warm tone such as red or pink. Apart from the repaired tear damage noted above, there are old retouched losses to paint and ground towards the centre of the lower edge of the painting. Under ultra-violet light extensive retouching is visible throughout the sky, possibly applied to disguise a worn original paint layer. In normal light this overpaint appears an uncharacteristically heavy lemon yellow colour at the left side of the sky above the distant mountain and church tower. There is also some retouching present in the lake behind the figures and a little in the figures themselves. The tree foliage at upper right against the sky is characteristic for Wilson. The figures and the reflections of trees in the lake are slightly awkward.
The painting is in sound condition with no recent paint losses or any signs of lifting or flaking of paint.