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The River Dee near Eaton Hall
Private Collection, England
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The River Dee near Eaton Hall
Oil on canvas
63.8 x 76 cm
25 1/8 x 29 15/16 in.
Private Collection, England
The view is near Eaton Hall, Cheshire. The river extends from the left foreground to the centre middle distance and is bordered on both sides by trees and bushes. At a bend in the middle distance, there is a cottage and in a field to the left, cows are grazing. A tree in the right foreground extends its branches halfway across the picture. Below it a youth is showing a semi-clad reclining girl an eel he has just caught. Distant hills are seen on the left and the sky is rosy with the sunset. The direction seems to be downstream, towards the north-west, Chester and Wales but the setting may be partly imaginary as the mood is one of evening, which the position of the sun does not support.
Ronald Seacombe, West Kingsdown, Kent; Richard Knight, Fine Paintings, 8 Blackheath Rise, London S.E.13, 1973; O. Petterson, Lee Green, London S.E.12, 1973; Private Collection, Sussex; Tony Roberts, Cider House Galleries, Bletchingley, Surrey; Nicholsons Auctions, The Auction Rooms, Midhurst Road, Fernhurst, Haslemere, Surrey GU27 3HA, 9 March 2016 (289)
Unsigned; no inscription
[1] Central vertical stretcher bar, old chalk or paint: 1213
[2] Right vertical stretcher bar, lower end, pencil: 300
[3] Stamp on lining reverse of J.R. Taylor.
[1] Upper centre verso: Richard Knight | FINE PAINTINGS | 8 Blackheath Rise | London SE13 | Tel 01-852 9541
The artist's home territory on the Welsh-English border provides the backdrop to an evening courtship scene, its gently amorous mood reflected by the two swans in the river, at the lower left. The composition appears to be the first depiction of 'public' British scenery, as opposed to private estates, executed after Wilson's return from Italy. Writers from Elizabethan times, including Spenser and Milton, referred to an ancient tradition ascribing god-like qualities to the Dee, prophetic for the fortunes of England and Wales, lying either side of it. Eaton Hall was the ancestral seat of Sir Richard, later 1st Earl Grosvenor and is currently that of his descendant, the 7th Duke of Westminster.
D354 The Banks of the River Dee near Eaton Hall Cheshire, Art Institute of Chicago, Leonora Hall Gurley Collection
E25 Thomas Morris after Wilson, The Banks of the River Dee near Eaton, Cheshire, The British Museum and other impressions
E71/1 John Young after Wilson, View on the River Dee, near Eaton Hall, The British Museum
P111 The Valley of the Dee with Chester in the Distance, The National Gallery, London
Of the surviving versions of this subject the present one is closest to P86C (Tyntesfield, National Trust) in composition and dimensions. The focus is a scene of gentle dalliance between the man and woman in the foreground, whose meaning is intensified by the symbolism of the eel and the exposed back of the woman.
The firm of Joseph Robert Taylor was active as 'picture restorers, carvers and gilders' at 15 Brazennose St, Manchester from 1847-1889 (J. Simon ed., British Picture Restorers, 1600-1950, NPG website - T)
Kate Lowry has noted: The work was viewed in its frame, but off display. Painting is fitted in a Maratta style gilt carved frame, unglazed and not backed. The frame moulding is 135 mm wide which is quite heavy for a painting of this size. Seen from the reverse the left hand rebate has clearly been enlarged at some point in its history to accommodate a bigger painting than the one it contains at present. This is therefore not thought to be an original frame. The frame bears a label of Richard Knight top centre at reverse. The frame finish also suggests it has been regilded relatively recently.
The painting has a simple weave linen canvas support which has been glue relined by the Manchester picture restorer J.R. Taylor, whose stamp appears on the lining reverse. He was active at the address in Brazennose Street from c.1840-85. The original turnovers were removed at the time of lining and the painting is now attached to the stretcher through the lining turnovers. It was not possible to examine these turnovers closely as the painting was viewed in the frame, but attachment appears to be good and the lining is sound. The lining process has severely flattened any impasto in the painting and made the original canvas weave more prominent at the picture surface. The stretcher is not original but dates from the relining. It has seven members with square mortice joints and provision for keying out. All keys present.
The painting has a pale grey ground which can be seen in various places where the paint is thin, especially at upper left sky. The treatment of the foliage masses at upper right and lower left are typical of Wilson's style, as is the painting of the large tree branches at upper right, where slight pentimenti are visible as the artist corrected their outlines. There are no areas of reserve left for the foliage against the sky, but this is a feature more common in Wilson's larger paintings. The foreground vegetation and some of the smaller trees and their foliage down the left side of the painting are more fussily painted than is normal in his work. Ultra-violet light shows that the painting has been cleaned, revarnished and retouched quite conservatively. Some older resin varnish residues remain in the dark foreground tones. There is a scattering of tiny retouches throughout the sky, presumably to reduce the worn appearance, and more extensive retouches below the line of the cloud edge to the left and right of the clump of trees at centre right. The head of the standing figure is quite strongly retouched around his hat and mouth. All retouches are on top of the present varnish which appears to be a synthetic resin coating. No major damages to the support or paint film are visible under UV or in normal light.