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Dover Castle
National Museum Wales, Cardiff
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Dover Castle
c.1746-47 (undated)
Oil on canvas
90.7 x 117 cm
35 3/4 x 46 1/8 in.
NMW A 66
P14B
In the foreground is a steep hill, at the foot of which are figures; in the centre, there is a view over the roofs of the town and the bay to the castle on top of the cliffs in the background; there is shipping in the harbour. Unusually for seascapes of the period only one ship is seen in any detail and even that is stationary. The sea is calm and the castle, while prominent, is obliquely lit and almost incidental to the composition; most of the town and port is in shadow. The only notable human drama is provided by a single ship clearing its guns in the port and an artist seated at his easel on a bank at the left.
A version - BI 1814 (126; 129 in 2nd ed. of catalogue); London 1925 (3 - View of Dover, lent Mr L.A. Harrison); Manchester 1925 (3); Birmingham 1948-49 (9); London 1949 (8); Thomas Agnew & Sons London, 1956, Some Pictures from the National Museum of Wales (30); Kenwood 1967 (29); Welsh Arts Council 1969 (4); Japan, Touring Exhibition, 1986-7 Masterpieces from the National Museum of Wales (7); Tercentenary 2014 (ex-cat)
Anon sale, Christie's 23 May 1924 (77), bt Leggatt; L.A. Harrison; presented by a group of subscribers to the Museum, 1928
Unsigned; no inscription
According to Kate Lowry, the grey ground and choice of pigments are correct for Wilson's period. The most compelling evidence of authenticity is the X-ray image, which exhibits the clear difference in density between sky and foreground areas, typical of Wilson's landscapes.
On frame:
[1] Chapman Brothers. Picture restorers, framers etc.
[2] [Chalk:] 40.49
[3] Richard Wilson 1969 cat. no. 4
[4] [Square label]: 312
[5] A very torn exhibition label
[6] On backing board: e/No.26
[7] On stretcher: Agnew's Galleries London 1956 | Cat. no. 30
John Sebastian Miller, View of Dover, engraving, published 8 April 1747
See 'Links' tab
Anonymous, View of Dover Castle, Walmer Castle, English Heritage Collection
George Lambert Dover Castle, 1735, Goodwood House
Wilson painted a number of landscapes before he went to Italy in 1750. This painting shows him following the careful topographical tradition learned from Netherlandish artists, with a remarkable sensitivity to light and air. It has been argued by David Solkin that the figure of the artist at the lower left is painting rather than merely drawing, but this is unproven.
Old Accession Number:28.129
Old Registration Number: 312
Smith 1828, p. 89; J.B. Manson: 'The Richard Wilson Exhibition at Millbank', Burlington Magazine, vol. 47, July 1925, pp. 38-39, pl. I; Grant 1926-47, I, p.51, pl. 37; Bury 1947, pl. 20; WGC, p. 177, pl. 38a; Waterhouse 1953, pp. 174 & 179; D. Cooper, The Courtauld Collection 1954, pp. 184-85;
Cardiff 1961, pp. 8-9
Dover Castle was described by Daniel Defoe in a A Tour through the whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27) as 'old, useless, decay'd and serves for little; but to give the title and honour of government to men of quality, with a salary, and sometimes to those who want one.' Nevertheless a castle on this site had stood fast against foreign invasion since the eleventh century and Wilson's composition suitably emphasises the guardianship of the castle over sea and land. Two views of Dover are recorded in the early literature. J.T. Smith, in his Life of Nollekens (p. 89), mentions a picture of Dover 'which Mr Nollekens also possessed, Mr Welch purchased it at a furniture sale, by Wilson's recommendation, assuring him that it was the best picture he painted'.
Relined. The grey ground and choice of pigments are correct for Wilson's period. An X-ray image demonstrates the clear difference in density between sky and foreground areas, typical of Wilson's landscapes. Infra-Red reflectography shows some masts and rigging drawn in but subsequently painted out. No changes are visible by X-ray but there is the characteristic contrast between the sky and foreground areas found in many of Wilson's landscapes.