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Solitude - I
Photograph courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland
Studio of Wilson
Solitude - I
Oil on canvas
102 x 127 cm; sight size: 99.5 x 124.7 cm
40 3/16 x 50 in; sight size: 39 3/16 x 49 1/8 in.
An elderly monk and his younger companion pass their days in study and contemplation by a still dark pool. Their peace is contrasted with the violently destroyed sculpture of a lion to the right, whose head lies almost unobserved, looking back towards its own ruins. The rich Italianate landsape is dominated by oak trees, associated in the 18th century with pre-Christian druids. In the far distance a religious ceremony takes place in a sunlit glade. At the lower left is an amphora and ribbon with an illegible inscription. The back of the pool has been brought further forward than in other versions.
Sir John Charles Robinson (d.1913); with Agnew 1901; purchased 1901 by Sir Walter Armstrong for the National Gallery of Ireland and transferred 1905
Inscribed on ribbon [?] lower left, virtually illegibly: S. Maria [?]
The foreground is bland and the composition sharply defined yet two-dimensional, notably the silhouetted tree trunks and building behind them, giving a theatrical appearance overall. The lion is not detailed in the other versions and the area to the right of the friars is generalised.
Taken from James Thomson's The Seasons: Summer (1730 edition, lines 439-447, slightly modified; 1746 edition, lines 513-521; later editions, lines 516-524):

'Still let me pierce into the midnight Depth
Of yonder Grove, of wildest, largest Growth:
That, forming high in Air a woodland Quire,
Nods o'er the Mount beneath. At every Step,
Solemn, and slow, the Shadows blacker fall,
And all is awful listening Gloom around.
These are the Haunts of Meditation,
These the Scenes Where antient Bards th'inspiring Breath,
Extatic, felt: and from this World retir'd'.
D359 Solitude, Study for a Picture, c.1762, The British Museum (1881,0212.3)
D275 A Great Stone, Italy, The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth / Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru
E44 William Woollett and William Ellis after Wilson Solitude, 1778, National Museum Wales, Cardiff, and other impressions.
E57 Charles Duttenhofer after Wilson,Solitude, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven and other impressions
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[1] Johann Christian Reinhart, Arcadian Landscape with Three Figures at a Lake, drawing, 1792, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund (2007.264)
[2] Adolf Friedrich Harper (1725-1806), Landscape with Ruins, 1798, Schloss Ludwigsburg, Germany (3852)
The monks are contrasted with the ruined statue of the lion to suggest that a life contemplating Christian values will lead to a wise and contented old age, whereas leonine violence and aggression will bring only tragic destruction. The glimpse of a Christian religious procession in the far background suggests also a contrast between the contemplative and active life. The rich wooded landscape is a relatively uncharacteristic construction for Wilson. He usually preferred a prospect or a more Claudean approach but this kind of enclosed composition was adumbrated in Italy in the 1750s in such works as P46 Ariccia -I and was subsequently repeated in P182 The Wilderness in St James's Park of the mid-1770s. The lion seems less important than in the other versions.Solitude first appeared as the title of the composition in the related print by Woollett and Ellis of 1778 (E44 etc.).

David Solkin has argued that the composition gives emblematic form to the notion of rural retirement as a moral activity which allows mankind the opportunity to study and become aware of the greatness of God. This message was designed to appeal to to patrician landowners, who liked to think of themselves as virtuous hermits in the private confines of their country estates. Another 'aristocratic myth' suggested that rural leisure was necessary to the acquisition of wisdom.

WGC, pp. 74, 98, 169, pl. 28a (version 2); Apollo, Feb. 1974; Potterton 1981, p. 180; H.E. Davies, Sir John Charles Robinson (1824-1913): His Role as a Connoisseur and Creator of public and private Collections, DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 1992, p. 365
Originally the painting was called Landskip with Hermits. The composition, with apparent references to to ancient British virtues and liberties, proved popular and Wilson and his studio made a number of copies
Much old varnish has been ploughed into the paint. Kate Lowry has noted:
Oil on canvas, glue-relined. Chalk date on reverse 'Oct 1916', possibly the date of the relining. Ground colour not visible as the work is thickly painted throughout. Outline of foliage and other forms is hard and rock shapes are less subtly modelled than is normal in Wilson's style. Also, there is very little foreground detail. Tonal range is very narrow with deep blue sky, harsh green foliage and flat grey rocks. Under UV light, minor retouches are visible throughout, but no major damages are present. Strong mature cracking is present throughout. Vection cracks suggest original stretcher bars were narrower.