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The White Monk - II
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton MA
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The White Monk - II
c.1765-75 (undated)
Oil on canvas
92.4 x 129.5 cm
36 3/8 x 51 in.
SC 1954:63
In the foreground two women are resting on the grass while a man brings up an open parasol behind them. A rider descends behind the bank to their left. In the left foreground is a prominent boulder, against which rests a stick. There are two large trees on the right and in the left middle distance, a wooded cliff with a waterfall, surmounted by a round tower, and promontory on the edge of which is silhouetted a wayside cross with religious figures in prayer before it. A town and mountains are seen in the right background.
London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-3 (104)
Christie's 31 May 1946 (67); bt Agnews, London, and with them, 1949; acquired by exchange 1954
The subject and thence the meaning remain open to multiple interpretations. Solkin memorably explained its attraction as a moral landscape by an emblematic interpretation of the Platonic philosophical concept of concordia discors, or the harmonious union of opposing elements, where 'the chaotic multiplicity of nature has yielded to the ordering hand of art.' (Solkin 1982, p. 66). He saw the inclusion of monks on the promontory as reassurance of a world anchored in divinely ordained harmony and reinforcing the moral certitude and authority of the patrician class who patronised the artist.
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P144 Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - I, Toledo Museum of Art
P144A Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782) and Studio, The White Monk - I, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
NWP144E Ascribed to Wilson, The White Monk - I, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea
P144F Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - I, Private Collection
P146 Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - III, Private Collection
P146A Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - III, Gemaldegalerie Alta Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
P146B Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - III, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
P147 Studio of Wilson, The White Monk - IV, Royal Academy of Arts, London
P147A Ascribed to Wilson, The White Monk - IV (Italian Landscape, with white Monk), Museums Sheffield
As noted by Postle, Wilson in this composition establishes a characteristic contrast between the constrictions of organised religion and the dolce far niente symbolised by the relaxed figures in the foreground. Postle also posited a more exact setting than previously acknowledged, e.g. by Constable, who recorded that it had sometimes been identified as Tivoli or a lower part of the Aniene gorge. He proposed the upper Aniene valley, looking east towards the Prenestini mountains and the rocky outcrops of Mentorella and Guadagnolo. This is an area associated historically with a chain of Benedictine monasteries, thus providing context for the presence of monks on the promontory. The White Monk was the most frequently repeated of all Wilson's compositions, a classic 'good breeder' as the artist described them (Wright 1824, p. 33). In this second of three main variants of the composition, two women are shown seated on the ground as a man brings up a parasol for them. There is no sapling behind and to the left of the trees at the right. A wayside cross is silhouetted at the extremity of the cliffs. This version is one of only three of the second stage of the composition (see versions).

The title, The White Monk, was applied first to a print made from a different version of the composition, then belonging to Lady Ford and published in Hastings 1825.
WGC, pp. 227-30 (unrecorded version of pl.122b); Sutton & Clements 1968, vol. 2, p. 47, fig. 54; Solkin 1982, pp. 66-70, 215
The large number of known versions of The White Monk confirm it as one of Wilson's most popular pictures - well over 30 survive, including those made by studio assistants and copyists. All seem to have been executed in Britain after the painter's return from Italy in 1757 and most of them after 1765, when an engraving was published by James Roberts. Nevertheless the composition does not seem to have been exhibited. Three main variant compositions were defined by Constable and the present compiler has retained his sytem, entitling them The White Monk - I, etc.