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Somerset House Gazette
Somerset House Gazette
William Henry Pyne
Somerset House Gazette and Literary Museum
W. Wetton, 21 Fleet Street, London
UK
1823-1824
Primary published
Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Hope 8 888 & 889
This periodical was edited by the artist, writer and critic, William Henry Pyne (1770-1843) under the pseudonym, 'Ephraim Hardcastle'. It was published weekly in 52 numbers from 11 October 1823 - 2 October 1824, combined as complete sets in two indexed volumes, price 14 shillings each. Their sub-title, Weekly Miscellany of Fine Arts, Antiquities and Literary Chit Chat gives a good idea of their content. Richard Wilson is discussed in vol. 1, pp. 300-301 & 414 and in vol. 2, pp. 173-74, 206-7, 209-10, 237-39 & 264-65.
Relevant sections from an anonyous letter to the editor: When I last saw [Wilson] he was painting one of his easel pictures in a state of dependency that grieved me - the more so, as I was then, though an ardent admirer of his talents, a young man, and not in circumstances to proffer those services which I would proudly have rendered to neglected genius. The late Captain Baillie, whom you appear to have known full well, was one of his best friends; but he, with all his warmth of heart, had at that time little more than his half-pay to support him in the rank of a gentleman. He had a brother, who, I think, was a captain in the navy, and who died Deputy Governor of Greenwich Hospital. This gentleman, at the instance of our friend Baillie the connoisseur, gave Mr. Wilson a few commissions, which for a period helped to cheer his spirits. Would, that many such had been thus kindly disposed. A very moderate income would have sufficed the greatest landscape painter in the world. Alas! That this could not be furnished - such was public taste fifty years ago. I never think of poor Wilson, but I blush for the age in which such a mighty genius was thus neglected, and left to starve. Baillie, who knew all the painters of the day, exerted himself with the most friendly zeal, in behalf of Wilson. He used to urge him to finish his pictures more carefully, and advised him to endeavour at the attainment of a correct topographical style. Wilson knew the drift of his own powers - nothing could change his resolve. 'I know', he would exclaim 'that posterity will render me justice.' I have often thought, however, and still do think, that his pictures were commonly too slight, and too careless in execution, particularly in his treatment of fore-grounds, which appeared to me, with few exceptions, to be little more than spirited dead-colourings, left for future finishing. Painters - and perhaps some few enlightened amateurs, might have felt the full force of the intention of these bold effusions of an original hand. But certainly the great majority of his works were beyond the comprehension of the general public taste, which in some measure, must lessen the indiscriminate odium which is affixed to this period; but, that even a few enlightened men could not be found, to rescue such a mind from impending poverty, was certainly a disgrace to the Engish nation. Baillie represented his merits to his brother, and took him to Wilson's studio. There he found the great genius before his easel. 'What do you demand for pictures of that size, Sir?' inquired the stranger. 'My usual price is sixteen guineas.' - 'Then, I beg the favour of you to let me have this, and that,' (one already finished) 'and at your leisure, you may, if you please, make me a few designs of the same size.' He gave his draft for the two pictures, and received some others within a given time. It should be mentioned, that the patron had no knowledge of the arts, and that this liberal act, was purely an offering of respect for merit in distress. If I mistake not, the number thus received, was twelve, all of kit-cat size - and further, on the faith of my memory, I may add, that, it was not until some time after the death of Mr. Wilson, that he could dispose of one of the collection, at the original price, even with the influence of our friend the Captain, who vainly endeavoured to force a sale of these incomparable works. The Captain assured me, within a few months of his death, that some of these pictures had then, nearly twenty years since, after passing through various hands, been disposed of singly, for, from one to one hundred and fifty guineas. What some of them may be valued at now - who can tell? Mr. Wilson, who had frequently changed his residence, in his latter years used to say, that he would henceforth always occupy the last house towards the open country. He died in the corner house of Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-square, then open to Hampstead and Highgate and the next door to that occupied by the late Joseph Farington, Esq. R.A., his enthusiastic admirer, and ingenious pupil. It may, perhaps, be worth notice; for every scrap of information, to quote your words, Mr. Hardcastle, relating to these departed worthies, is acceptable to men of research, who are disposed to canonize the manes of such distinguished geniuses. It may then be worth notice, that Woollett, the landscape engraver, whose wonderful burin has spread the fame of our painter to foreign nations, succeeded to the house of his friend Wilson, and by a remarkable coincidence, the finest engravings, from the finest pictures of the eighteenth century, were executed under the same roof. Were we disposed to poetize on so fortuitous a subject, Mr. Hardcastle, well might we talk of inspiration. [No. 26, 3 April 1824, p. 414]
25/03/2020