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Holt Bridge on the River Dee
The National Gallery, London
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Holt Bridge on the River Dee
c.1761-62 (undated)
Oil on canvas
149.6 x 193.8 cm
58 7/8 x 76 5/16 in.
NG6196
P110
On the high foreground hill a trio of Arcadian figures can be seen, sharing with the viewer a lofty vista along the River Dee in the direction of the distant Clwydian hills. The panorama is from the English side of Holt Bridge, which links Denbighshire and Cheshire. The small village of Holt in the Welsh county of Denbighshire is on the spectator's left and the larger village of Farndon, with the tower of St Chad's church, in the English county of Cheshire, is on the right. In the left foreground lie a man and a woman. She is shading her eyes against the rising sun, which sheds a half-light on the cliffs beyond, and he is holding a recorder-like instrument. They are listening to a standing flautist picturesquely dressed in Van Dyckian or Polish costume with striped breeches. Behind in the middle distance animals and a drover cross the bridge towards Farndon. There is a prominent house in the distance to the right of the tree, perhaps intended as Holt Hill. Originally built in the 17th century, this was re-fronted and enlarged in the 18th century. It was for many years the residence of the Crew family who owned a large acreage of land lying to the west. Buildings are also visible in silhouette near the smoke to the right of that. To the left of the church is a tiny figure in silhouette and to his right, some poplars - surely more characteristic of Italy than Northern England.
SA 1762 (135 A View of Holt Bridge, on the River Dee); BI June 1841 (119 or 123 Landscape, lent by J. Tollemache, Esq.); London, Agnew 1926 (18); London 1951-52 (21); Rotterdam 1955 (65); Moscow 1960 (14); London 1973-74 (37); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (95); Goodwood House, West Sussex 2005, Wilson; Tercentenary 2014 (75)
Probably bt from the artist by Lyonel Tollemache, 4th Earl of Dysart (1708-1770); Louisa, Countess of Dysart, 1821; by descent to Bentley Lyonel John Tollemache, 3rd Baron Tollemache, until sold together with P111 (see 'Related Paintings' below), two years before his death, by the Trustees of the Tollemache Estates, Christie's 15 May 1953 (158); bt Agnew's (#J0998); bt by the National Gallery (Colnaghi Fund), 12 November 1953
Unsigned; no inscription
The horizon is drawn downwards from the sky to the land with prominent ridges of paint, which is a text-book example of Wilson's method. There are pentimenti to the left of the first fork of the main tree and in the higher fork, as well as on the roof of the building to the right of the church.
[1] Upper horizontal member of stretcher, pencil, partly obscured: No 3 Bookcase d [?]
[2] Upper horizontal member of stretcher, white chalk: 96
[3] Upper horizontal member of stretcher, faint stencil: 486W
[4] Top right corner, stencilled black ink: NG 6196
[5] Upper left quarter, pink chalk: 3
[6] Upper left quarter, pink chalk: 3
[7] Centre-right vertical member of stretcher, white chalk: 158
Verso:
[1] Top left, typed label: British Council Rotterdam 1955
[2] Top centre, typed octagonal label, with title
[3] Middle horizontal member of stretcher, left, typed label: Rotterdam 1955
[4] Lower horizontal member of stretcher, centre, printed: Agnew's label, with stock no. 15575
Holt Bridge, built in 1343, crosses the River Dee, linking Holt with Farndon, and thus joining Wales and England. Together with P111 (see 'Related Paintings'), this painting conveys contrasting times of day, emphasised here by the clear, cold tonality of early morning. The area was very familiar to Wilson. His cousin's house at Colomendy was a few miles away to the Welsh (left) side of the border as were Leeswood, another cousin's house, the house of John Boydell the print publisher, and the town of Mold, where Wilson's family had moved in 1728. Farndon on the right was the home of the sisters of Thomas Wright, the artist who taught Wilson to paint.
D358 Holt Bridge on the River Dee, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
See 'Links' tab
Pendant P111 The Valley of the Dee, with Chester in the Distance, National Gallery, London
Claude Lorrain:Landsape near Rome with a view of the Ponte Molle, 1645, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Considerable artistic licence includes the exaggeration of the heights of the clilffs and surrounding hills, confirming that in David Solkin's words, 'for Wilson it was crucial to wrest a single, all-encompassing order from the chaotic variety of nature. The composition is thus organised in the manner of a classical landscape, based particularly on Claude' s Rome and the Ponte Molle(1645) in which elevating features such as the graceful tree, the central bridge and the Arcadian figures are transferred from an Italian to a native British setting and play an important part in establishing the mood.' The overall design also owes much to Gaspard Dughet and in its acknowledgment of the styles of both predecessors, provides an excellent example of 'imitation' in the eighteenth-century sense of the word. However the weather conditions are very much those of the North Wales-England border rather than Claudean Italy. As emphasised by Robin Simon in the Tercentenary Exhibition catalogue, such attention to the meteorological conditions of the British countryside is one of Wilson's enduring legacies to the British landscape school, notably Turner, Constable and countless watercolourists.
J.P. Neale, Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, vol. 4, 1821, n.p. (under Helmingham Hall); Ford 1951, pp. 36, 62; WGC, pp. 44, 72, 88, 94, 175, pl.35a; Davies 1959, pp. 108-9; Parris 1973, p. 31; M. Rosenthal, British Landscape Painting, 1982, p. 64; Solkin 1982, pp. 207-9; J. Hayes,British Painting of the 16th - 19th Centuries, Washington 1992, pp. 334-36; R. White and J. Pile, 'Analyses of Paint Media', National Gallery Technical Bulletin, vol 16, 1995, pp. 85-95; Simon 1998 Egerton 1998, rev. 2000, pp. 326-29; S. Matthews, 'Manipulating the Landscape: Richard Wilson and the Dee Valley', Cheshire History, no. 40, Chester, 2000-2001, pp. 26-30; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 262
The Dysarts possessed extensive lands in Cheshire and owned a seat at Woodhey, just to the east of Holt, though it is not visible from here. There is a recognisable house to the right of the tree, perhaps intended as Holt Hill. Buildings are also visible in silhouette near the smoke to the right of that.
Canvas size: 146.3 x 190.1 cm (57 5/8 x 74 7/8 in.). Kate Lowry has noted: Oil on canvas, already glue lined when acquired by National Gallery in 1953. Original turnovers removed at time of lining. Nine member pine stretcher is not original and dates from relining. Vection cracks indicate that original stretcher had a single vertical cross-member 70mm wide. Foliage against sky appears to have pinkish underpaint. Oil ground is biscuit-coloured. Sky is underpainted with white or pale blue and the foreground with a warm brown. Prussian blue in sky is slightly faded. Pentimenti around the trees at the left show changes in branches and tree trunks. Very pronounced drying cracks between the figures in foreground.