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Solitude - I
City & County of Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Collection
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Solitude - I
Dated 1762
Oil on canvas
100.3 x 125.1 cm
39 1/2 x 49 1/4 in.
GV 1971-2
P114
An elderly monk and his younger companion pass their days in study and contemplation by a still dark pool. Their peace is contrasted with the violently destroyed sculpture of a lion to the right, whose head lies almost unobserved, looking back towards its own ruins. The rich Italianate landscape is dominated by oak trees, associated in the 18th century with pre-Christian druids. In the far distance a religious ceremony takes place in a sunlit glade. At the lower left is an amphora and ribbon with an illegible inscription.
SA 1762 [?] (132, as Landskip with Hermit); London, Martin and Sewell, Nov. 1970-Jan. 1971; Paris 1972 (336); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (101); Oriel, Newtown, 1990/1991; Swansea 1999 (1); Tercentenary 2014 (86)
Offered by the painter to George III but refused; former collection of E.W.Parker, Skirwith Abbey, Cumberland; Christie's 2 July 1909 (101 - bt in); Wyatt [?]; acquired 1971 with V&A/Purchase Grant aid
Signed and dated on the rock lower left: RW [monogram, R reversed], 1762
Taken from James Thomson's The Seasons: Summer (1730 edition, lines 439-447, slightly modified; 1746 edition, lines 513-521; later editions, lines 516-524):

'Still let me pierce into the midnight Depth
Of yonder Grove, of wildest, largest Growth:
That, forming high in Air a woodland Quire,
Nods o'er the Mount beneath. At every Step,
Solemn, and slow, the Shadows blacker fall,
And all is awful listening Gloom around.
These are the Haunts of Meditation,
These the Scenes Where antient Bards th'inspiring Breath,
Extatic, felt: and from this World retir'd'.
D275 A Great Stone, Italy, The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth / Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru
D359 Solitude, Study for a Picture, c.1762, The British Museum (1881,0212.3)
E44 William Woollett and William Ellis after Wilson Solitude, 1778, National Museum Wales, Cardiff, and other impressions.
E57 Charles Duttenhofer after Wilson,Solitude, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven and other impressions
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[1] Johann Christian Reinhart, Arcadian Landscape with Three Figures at a Lake, drawing, 1792, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund (2007.264)
[2] Adolf Friedrich Harper (1725-1806), Landscape with Ruins, 1798, Schloss Ludwigsburg, Germany (3852)
The monks are contrasted with the ruined statue of the lion to suggest that a life contemplating Christian values will lead to a wise and contented old age, whereas leonine violence and aggression will bring only tragic destruction. The glimpse of a Christian religious procession in the far background suggests also a contrast between the contemplative and active life. The rich wooded landscape is a relatively uncharacteristic constructioin for Wilson. He usually preferred a prospect or a more Claudean approach but this kind of enclosed composition was adumbrated in Italy in the 1750s in such works as P46 Ariccia -I and was subsequently repeated in P182 The Wilderness in St James's Park of the mid-1770s. Solitude first appeared as the title of the composition in the related print by Woollett and Ellis of 1778 (E44 etc.)

David Solkin has argued that the composition gives emblematic form to the notion of rural retirement as a moral activity which allows mankind the opportunity to study and become aware of the greatness of God. This message was designed to appeal to to patrician landowners, who liked to think of themselves as virtuous hermits in the private confines of their country estates. Another 'aristocratic myth' suggested that rural leisure was necessary to the acquisition of wisdom.
WGC p. 169 (recorded lost version 10 of pl. 28a); Solkin 1982, pp. 70-74, 212-13; Themes and Variations 1999, pp. 14-15 repr.; R. Moisan, J. Williamson & R. Simon, 'X-ray of Wilson's Solitude: Hermits and Nudes', British Art Journal, Vol. 1, no. 2, Spring 2000, p. 69; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 270
Originally the painting was called Landskip with Hermits. The composition, with apparent references to ancient British virtues and liberties, proved popular and Wilson and his studio made a number of copies.
Glazed, framed and relined. X-rays reveal that the painting has been changed considerably. X-radiography has revealed female figures under the current composition. These were possibly taken from The Destruction of the Children of Niobe, but more likely to have represented Diana and Actaeon, which Wilson had painted during the 1750s, though to a different design. The subject thus appears to have been changed at an early stage, or the canvas reused. A pentimento lower right indicates that the torso of the broken lion sculpture was once complete.
20/12/2016