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Houghton Conquest House, Bedfordshire
Reproduced by kind permission of His Grace the Duke of Bedford and the Trustees of the Bedford Estates / Photograph by Matthew Hollow
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Houghton Conquest House, Bedfordshire
c.1765-67 (undated)
Oil on canvas
101.9 x 127.3 cm
40 1/8 x 50 1/8 47 in.
P160
The mansion is shown as dominating the entire countryside, In the foreground a peasant has stopped his horse to talk to a recumbent woman and her child. The main side of the house visible is the north front, lit at an oblique angle by the golden sunlight streaming from the west, indicating, along with the lengthy shadows, that the time is evening. To the right of the tree just below its branches, Houghton Conquest Church and some village houses can be seen in the distance. The mood is one of peaceful rest.
RA 1771 (223 - View of Houghton, the seat of the late Marquis of Tavistock in Bedfordshire); BI 1817 (139 Landscape, lent Duke of Bedford); Rotterdam 1955 (70); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (127)
Probably commissioned by Francis, Marquess of Tavistock (d.1767); John, 4th Duke of Bedford, Bedford House, Great Russell Street, London (demolished 1800); transferred to Woburn Abbey; thence by descent
The picture is said to have been signed and dated 1770 but inspection with the naked eye and UV in December 2013 revealed neither signature nor date
The ground is pale and the tree is not painted over a reserve
[1] Lower horizontal member of stretcher, black ink: HOUGHTON HOUSE, BEDFORDSHIRE / RICHARD WILSON, R.A.
[1] British Council [typed, partly obscured]: Trustees of the Bedford Settled Estates / 29a Montagu Street, Russell Square (98) [?]
[2] Catalogue extract [?]: 53 View of Houghton House
[3] Types, London, Cardiff and New Haven 1982-83 (The Marquess of Tavistock 127)
[4] Ink: 22262
[5] Typed, Museum Boymans, Rotterdam 1955 (20)
The house was built in the early 17th century for Mary, Countess Dowager of Pembroke. Sir Philip Sidney, her brother, is said to have written part of his Arcadia in a lodge belonging to the park. The house later passed to the Marquis of Ailesbury and in 1738 was sold to the Duke of Bedford. In the 1760s it was the seat of Francis Russell, Marquis of Tavistock and heir to the Duke of Bedford. It was abandoned and dismantled in 1767 on his premature death.
In 1765 Tavistock purchased P56B Rome from the Villa Madama, National Gallery Canada, Ottawa, from Wilson and probably commissioned this work shortly afterwards. In 1767, however, he died suddenly having fallen from his horse. As David Solkin has observed, given that the period was a very busy one for Wilson, he may not have finished the picture by the time of his patron's death, which could explain the delay before the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy four years later. By this point in his career Wilson was becoming increasingly interested in 17the century Dutch landscape painting, indicated here by the relatively flat horizon combined with his concentration on the central motif of the tree. In this case Jacob van Ruisdael is the prototype, especially his views of Bentheim Castle, silhouetted against the brilliant sky beyond a forest. It was almost certainly the picture described by Waagen in 1857 as 'View of Haddon [sic] Hall. Very picturesque in effect and of careful handling, but somewhat dark in colour'.
J. Britton, Beauties of England and Wales, 1801, p. 51; Woburn Abbey Guide Book, 1818; Waagen 1857, p. 332, Letter VI, Woburn Abbey: 'View of Haddon Hall [sic]. Very picturesque in effect, and of careful handling, but somewhat dark in colour'; Scharf, Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Woburn Abbey, 1889, p. 432; Waterhouse 1953, p. 177; WGC, pp.44, 73,92,178, pl.39c; Solkin 1982, pp.233-234, no. 127, chapter V
Under UV, reinforcements of the paint were visible above the roofline of the house, between its gables, in the foreground round the figures, on the brow of the ridge behind them, at the horizon on the right and in a patch of sky at the mid-upper right. Unusually the original turnover of the canvas is preserved and is in place.
Kate Lowry has noted: Canvas has been glue relined and the turnover edges of the lining have also been strip-lined using a synthetic wax-resin adhesive, possibly at the time of the 1982 exhibition. Original turnover edges removed at the time of relining. The pale grey tone visible around some of the foliage against the sky is probably the ground colour. Foliage of the main tree has the loose appearance of Wilson's mature style especially in the application of the highlights. Slight pentiment to the right of central tree suggests Wilson reduced the spread of the foliage here. Another pentiment visible to the tree line below and to the right of the house. Distant landscape at right is painted over a brown underpaint and the sky painted down to it producing a characteristic line of impasto at the horizon. The figures of a man standing beside his horse and a seated mother with her child are typical of Wilson, as is the way the lower part of the main tree and the horse are partially obscured by the foreground bluff to give a sense of recession and the grove of trees in the middle distance at the right with light streaming through from behind them at a low angle.
Under UV light minor retouches overlying the varnish are visible around the foreground figures, strengthening the outlines of the standing figure and the fallen tree trunks below and to the left of him. There are also two larger retouches in the sky, one around the central gable of the house at the left of the composition and the other in the centre of the right hand area of sky. Other minor retouches throughout the sky. No major damages visible.