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Caernarvon Castle
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Caernarvon Castle
c.1745 (undated)
Oil on canvas
64.8 x 104.9 cm
25 1/2 x 41 5/16 in.
B1976.7.174
P12A
In the foreground the artist, perhaps intended as Wilson himself, is drawing on a white sheet of paper pinned to a board. Several tiny people are visible to the right of the castle and there is a figure caulking a boat on the beach to the right.
Rotterdam 1955 (69); Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, A Hundred Years of British Landscape Painting (1750-1850), 1956 (4); New Haven 1977 (21); Yale Center for British Art, Presences of Nature, 1982-3 (III.i); Sydney 1998 (21)
Anon. sale, Christie's, 3 June, 1901 (145), bt S.T. Smith; New York Art Market, c.1934; John Mitchell & Sons, London, c. 1934; Geoffrey Hart; Mrs D. Hart, Forest Row, Sussex; Bryan Jenks, Astbury Hall, Shropshire; Edward Speelman; acquired by Paul Mellon, July 1965
Signed lower right: R.W.; no inscription
The lighting is beautiful and especially limpid on the hill to the right. The water is painted in round the patron's head. The artist might have been drawn in the nude from the musculature of his back. Note the lovely squiggle of his coat tails. The reflection of the castle is beautiful but people are not accurately reflected. Note the shepherd silhouetted in red at the top of the hill. The flocks below him may be rocks when magnified. The foliage of the right-hand tree is painted over the highlit clouds behind. The tree trunks to the right have juicy cream/white/pink impastoed highlighting.
Caernarvon Castle is located on the northern banks of the River Seiont on the Caernarvonshire coast in North Wales, across the Menai Straits from the Island of Anglesey. Its massive ruins offered the traveller in search of the picturesque an impressive reminder of Britain's heroic past. The castle was begun by Edward I in 1284 and his son Edward, the first English Prince of Wales, was born in the great Eagle Tower on 25th April that year.
E27 William Byrne (1743-1805) after Wilson, Carnarvon Castle, The British Museum and other impressions
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Object ID: 4996
Pennant 1784, pp. 214-19; WGC, pp. 93, 94, 109, 119, 173 pl. 32a; The Connoisseur, June 1956; Herrmann 1973, p. 57; Cormack 1985, pp. 250 & 251
The castle is depicted as a crumbling ruin, with much of its monumental structure obscured or missing. This reflects the romantic approach evident in the writings of the day, as well as Wilson's awareness of the nascent picturesque movement with its interest in irregular forms and surfaces rather than topographical verisimilitude.
Relined. Interesting 'knotty' craquelure. Foamboard backboard. Four member stretcher with square mortice joints, not original. Probably dates from lining. Simple weave original canvas has lost its turnover edges and is glue lined onto similar weight canvas. All edges are covered by a black painted tape making it difficult to examine, however the X-ray suggests the edges of the original fall short of the stretcher size by about 8mm all round and are slightly rough, not cut with a knife and ruler. Original simple weave canvas is quite coarse across the central area and cusping is visible in X-ray at left and lower edges. The X-ray also shows a few pentimenti: the top of the bluff at right has been flattened off slightly; there are minor alterations to the left hand towers and a small tower has been painted out at the right of the castle. Ground layer has an extremely gritty texture throughout, which could be due to coarse material being included in it or the formation of lead salts as the ground aged. XRF examination was inconclusive showing only lead and chalk. The cross-sections show a double ground layer, the upper containing carbon particles and the lower ochre and some clear areas which may indicate the formation of lead soaps in ground. Under UV minor retouched losses in sky upper left and foreground lower left, as well as in tree trunk lower right. The pentiment above Twt Hill is retouched as well as the cracks above castle in sky. Signature lower right corner appears to have been left uncleaned and the upstroke of the 'W' retouched. The IR images suggest that the figure of the gentleman in the foreground was first placed a little to the left of his present position. There is a little underdrawing to head and arm of artist seated in foregroun but no other underdrawing visible elsewhere. The pentiment at the top of Twt Hill looks like a quarry edge in IR. XRF showed earth colours in foreground and foliage, Prussian blue in gentleman's coat, Ultramarine and Prussian blue in sky, Naples yellow in boatbuilder's costume and vermilion in fire. Conservation record shows it was cleaned in 1998 by Stephen Kornhauser, who removed the varnish, brush revarnishing with mastic before retouching and giving final spray coat of damar varnish with Tinuvin.