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The White Monk - II
The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The White Monk - II
c.1760-65 (undated)
Oil on canvas
76 x 130 cm
29 15/16 x 51 3/16 in.
P145
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.
RA Old Masters 1880 (134 - Landscape and Figures - lent by Sir Reginald P. Beauchamp); London, Thos. Agnew & Son Ltd, 1982, Master Paintings, 1470-1820, and a Group of Watercolours by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. (1); Houston, Museum of Fine Art, 4 October 1992 - 1 January 1993, Masterpieces of Baroque Painting from the Collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, pl. 24
1880 in possession of Sir Reginald Proctor Beauchamp, Baronet (1853-1912), Langley Park, Norwich; sold by his Trustees, Christie's 31 May 1946 (67 - 'An Italian Landscape: a view looking across a valley towards hills with two Monks before a Crucifix on high ground on the left, and three figures and horsemen near a tall tree in foreground'.) bt Thomas Agnew & Son, Ltd, 43, Old Bond Street, London W.1.; sold as The Alban Hills to Ivan Stedeford of Tube Investments, 30 October 1947; bt Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, Texas
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.
Hastings 1825, p. 16; Ford 1951, p. 33; WGC, pp. 89, 227-30, pl. 122b; E.K. Waterhouse 1953, p. 176; Solkin 1978, p. 237; Solkin 1982, pp. 66-70, 214-15, two other versions illustrated; Sutton 1983, p. 43; Martin Butlin, Aspects of British Painting 1550-1800 from the Collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, 1988, Houston, Texas, pp. 100-104, repr. p. 103
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.
Generally good. Some minor losses along the left-hand edge and in the sky.