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Ego fui in Arcadia (Shepherds in the Campagna)
Private Collection, England / Photograph by Christopher Chard
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Ego fui in Arcadia (Shepherds in the Campagna)
1755
Oil on canvas
109.2 x 135.9 cm
43 x 53 1/2 in.
Private Collection, England
P69
Two Arcadian shepherds stand in contemplation of the transience of human life amidst the Roman Campagna. In the mid-distance the river is probably the Tiber and behind, what appears to be Mount Soracte. Fragments of antique sculpture and architecture include a column recalling that of Phocas in the Campo Vaccino.
BI 1867 (203 Landscape and Figures, lent Earl of Strafford); Birmingham 1948-49 (60); London 1949 (59); Kenwood 1967 (31); Kenwood 1974 (147); Munich 1979-80 (82); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (74)
Sir George Colebrooke (1729-1809), probably bought diurectly from the artist; by descent to Lady Strafford; by descent to the Earl of Strafford; 1967, Lady Elizabeth Byng, Wrotham Park Kent; 1974, Viscount and Viscountess Enfield, Abbot's Worthy House, Abbot's Worthy, Winchester; by descent to the present owner.
Signed and dated on masonry lower right: R.W.F. ROMA [|] 1755
Inscribed on bas relief lower right: EGO FUI IN ARCADIA
The theme had been painted in the 17th century by Guercino, Poussin and other artists.
D385 Study of Figures for 'Ego fui in Arcadia', Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven
D175 The Column of Phocas and the Campo Vaccino, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
This is the latest known dated painting from Wilson's Italian period and one of his final elaborated essays in the manner of Claude. It is unusual in that preparatory drawings for the figures survive (see Related drawings). Wilson's source for the subject may have been the eponymous painting by Guercino (c. 1618-22, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome). It is uncertain whether the relief of Apollo resting on his lyre was taken from the Antique or was an invention of Wilson's.
B. Ford, 'The Art of Richard Wilson', Country Life, vol. 104, 19 November 1948, pp. 1054-56; Ford 1952, p. 313, fig.4; Waterhouse 1953, p. 175, pl. 140B; WGC, pp. 35, 71, 160, pl. 17b; E.K. Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1978, p. 235; Solkin 1982, pp. 190-91
Kate Lowry has noted: Framed in a simple gilt frame with slight ornamentation, perhaps contemporary with the painting. Unglazed. The support is a simple medium weight linen canvas, prepared with an off-white ground or possibly pale grey. This is visible only in the stones at lower right above the dark archway, where the paint does not quite cover the ground. A thin brown underpaint is visible beneath the mid-ground and the tree foliage. The foreground figures and stones are solidly painted with sharp highlights. The distant mountain landscape is thickly painted with the sky brought down over the highest peak left of centre, whilst the mountain to the right of centre has been extended over the sky paint. Smoke from a bonfire unites the distant plain with the far distant mountains. A red-brown tone in the trees is applied between the branches and foliage as part of the paint film and no reserve or ground for the foliage is evident. It was not possible to get a clear view of the reverse, but enough to see that the stretcher dates from 20th century and has seven members and square mortice joints with provision for keying out. The painting has been glue relined and possibly also more recently strip-lined to reinforce the turnover attachment. Wrinkling of paint in the distant landscape as well as the presence of some drying cracks in the sky suggest the painting may have suffered overheating during the lining treatment. No drying cracks appear in the foreground darks. The inscription 'Ego fui in Arcadia' appears to have been painted in twice and the pentiment of the first lettering is visible beneath the more neatly painted letters of the second attempt. There is a small recent damage to the centre sky, consisting of a dent to the canvas support and slight damage to the paint or varnish. Under UV light and in raking light, a possible pentiment is visible to the left of the man on horseback. Also under UV it was possible to confirm that, apart from the '1' of the '1755', the signature, date and inscription had not been retouched.