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Okehampton Castle, Devonshire
Birmingham Museums Trust
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Okehampton Castle, Devonshire
c. 1771-74 (undated)
Oil on canvas
171.4 x 265.9 cm
67 3/16 x 104 11/32 in
1948P27
P173
The picture focuses on the remains of the largest castle in Devon shown in a picturesque setting on a wooded spur above the rushing river Okement. The town of Okehampton appears in the middle distance. In the centre is a man with a white horse
R.A. 1774 (317 - Oakhampton Castle in Devonshire built by Baldwin de Bryone before the Conquest); BI 1814 (139/142 - A View of Oakhampton Castle, Devon), lent Hon. Richard Howard; Brighton 1920 (21), lent Capt R. Ford; Birmingham 1948-49 (6); London 1949 (5); London, Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition, 1950-51 (65); London 1951-52 (83); Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts 1966 Peintures et Aquarelles anglaises 1700-1900 (135); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (134)
Before 1814, the Hon. Richard Howard; his daughter, Mary Howard (married Lord Templetown of Castle Upton); Templetown family at Castle Upton; Lord Templetown sale Knight Frank & Rutley, 26 May 1911, bt Leggatt Bros and sold immediately after the sale to unknown buyer; Cohen, sold to Francis Howard; sold 1918 through Francis Howard to Capt. Richard Ford (£135); sold Christie's 14 June 1929 (7), bt Agnew (400 guineas); 21 July 1948, bt City Art Gallery, Birmingham
Unsigned; no inscription
Verso:
[1] Agnew
[2] To go to Castle Upton as Heirloom 6 [? encircled]
[3] Richard WIlson 17f (
[4] 5 [chalk]
[5] cat 83 [chalk]
[6] wo 2709
[7] Okehampton Castle / by Richard Wilson 6 [encircled]
The castle was built in the late eleventh century and was the only castle in Devon recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) as belonging to Baldwin de Brionne, Sheriff of Devon. It was converted into a sumptuous residence in the 14th century by Hugh Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon and later belonged to the Courtenay and Mohun families. On the execution in 1538 of its then owner, Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquis of Exeter, it was partially dismantled. Much of the surviving masonry is of 14th century construction. In 1774 the remains were bought by Lord Clive, who was followed by a succession of owners in the 19th century. In 1967 it was given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works as a national monument.
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[1] John Richards, A View of Oakhampton Castle in Devonshire, RA 1770 (153)
This is a large, show-piece picture, almost certainly exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1774. Wilson's Memorandum Book, Victoria & Albert Museum (f.6v), states 'At Oakhampton Aug. 1 with a slight pencil sketch of a village with hills beyond.' This, with other entries relating to a tour in Dorset and Devon, stands between two entries dated 1771. Even though the entries in the book are not always in chronological order, it is likely that the picture was painted 1771-4. Wright 1824 in a list of Wilson's principal pictures, mistakenly gives the owner as the Honourable Richard Hoare.
27,48
S. & N. Buck, Views of Ruins of Castles and Abbeys in England (1726-1739), pl. 68; Wright 1824, p. 272; WGC, pp. 44, 74, 94, 182, pl. 47c; Solkin 1982, p. 239, no.134
Much of the paint is very thin. The ground is whitish, with severe abrasions of the paint layer, especially in the sky. Light mauvish reinforcement of the silhouette of the castle mound is evident. There is a network of blanched age crackles and the surface pigments are noticeably split in the leaves on the left. There is a pentiment next to the figures lower right. The trees uppper right are not perspectivally convincing and have been overpainted. There is a repaired damage lower left by the sitting figure. The passage on the tower standing on the hillside is ambiguous as it was changed to a tree and back by a later restorer.
Kate Lowry has noted:
Glue relined pre-1966. Stretcher dates from lining and has square mortice joints and several cross-members. Original canvas has 12 x 12 threads per sq. cm. Off-white commercial ground. Paint very worn especially in sky and distant landscape at right, leaving pale tone of ground easily visible. Slight changes to the outline of castle ruins visible because of wear in sky. Cloud mass at centre sky not worn. Greens of foliage are unusually bright for Wilson. Figures are also painted with unusually bright pinks and blues. Foliage has reserve around it against the sky, but the reserve is just the pale tone of the ground and has none of Wilson's usual warmth. The leaves of left hand trees are rather mechanically blobbed on. Strange dark blue area in sky behind trees at left and some thick unmodulated grey paint on the tree trunk here looks like later overpaint. 1966 surface-cleaned and revarnished with MS2B. Damage at lower left by seated figure and large scratch lower left recorded. 1973-76 varnish removed with acetone. Afterwards retouched extensively in sky to reduce appearance of wear. Main damages recorded in upper and lower left corners and across the left hand tree. Alec Cobbe thinks the work is unfinished and possibly some parts completed by a later hand.