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Rowland Jones, a reputed Welsh Bard, aged 90
Chirk Castle, The Myddelton Collection (National Trust)
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Rowland Jones, a reputed Welsh Bard, aged 90
1757 [?]
Oil on canvas
76.5 x 63.7 cm
30 1/8 x x 25 1/16 in.
13
P75
Portrait of an old man, half-length and to the right, with thin grey hair and luxuriant grey beard, his head resting against his proper right hand. He wears a dark cloak over a closely buttoned tunic or coat, and his left hand fingers the pages of an open book lying on a table before him. Another book, tied closed with ribbons, is seen at the lower left.
Wrexham 1876 (407 - Rowland Jones, a Bard, lent R. Myddelton Biddulph); Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, Pictures from Welsh Private Collections, 1951 (63 - lent by Lt-Col. Ririd Myddelton, Chirk Castle)
Believed to have come to Chirk in the 18th century, when the Myddelton family were known to have been early patrons of Wilson; thence by descent; with some of the contents that were acquired in 1978 along with Chirk Castle from Lt-Col Ririd Myddelton (1902-1988) by the National Land Fund and handed, on loan for 99 years, to the Secretary of State for Wales. When Chirk was transferred into the ownership of the National Trust in 1981, retained by Captain David Myddelton; given to Guy Charles Myddelton, 2010; on loan to the National Trust.
Signed, inscribed and dated centre right: Rowland Jones. [/] AETATIS SUAE [/] LXXXX. [/] R.Wilson f. 1757 [or 1737 or 1747; RW in monogram, R reversed]
Constable remarks that the loose handling of the paint is unusual in portraits by Wilson but has some resemblance to that in P38 Head of an Old Man, Private Collection, England and P39 Head of a Capuchin, Leicester Museum & Art Gallery. The clear crimson shadows are also unusual and suggest the influence of Rubens, perhaps through the lens of Venetian rococo painting. The flesh tones of both the face and hands are quite thickly but loosely painted with strong brush marking. The artist has used a bright red underpaint around the sitter's eyes, nose and lips which is left exposed in places as part of the final image. The hairs of the beard and the highlighted edges of the book pages are rendered with very finely brushed lines. The black shadows just beneath his eyelids deprive his eyes of the reflective highlights customary in Wilson's portraits. The name of the sitter is in a pale brown tone, whilst his age and the artist's signature are painted slightly darker. Under UV light there is no sign of any damage or retouching in this area.
[1] Frame, verso lower right, black ink: Rowland Jones a Welch bard. [/] Wilson
[2] Frame,verso lower right, exhibition label: Art Treasures, Wrexham [/] PAINTING [/] Subject: Rowland Jones [/] Artist: Wilson [/] Contributor: Ralph Biddulph
[3] Frame, verso lower centre, black ink: Lower Dining Room [/] No. 8
The inscription on label [1] verso led to the identification of the sitter as Rowland Jones (1722-1774), the philologist and writer on Welsh poetry, but the age of the sitter and the date of the picture, if correct, exclude this possibility. There is no record of a Welsh bard called Rowland Jones and the book is open at a page of illegible manuscript text - not music as might be more usual for a bard. However, the sitter's eyes are obscured by touches of black paint, just beneath his eyelids, suggesting blindness or cataract - states often associated with bards and musicians and consistent with the inscription giving his age as 90. It may be that the Rowland Jones in question was a local bard kept as a retainer by the Myddeltons.
P75 presents attributional problems, e.g. compositionally - the placement of the sitter's right elbow seems awkward - and chronologically - the third digit of the date is indistinct and could read as a 3, possibly 4 or 5. Furthermore, the 's' of the surname is the modern 's' rather than the older 'f' symbol used in the artist's full signature on portraits of the 1740s, e.g. P5 Portrait of Boulter Tomlinson, which is signed 'R. Wilson 1740' and where the 'R' is not reversed. If the inscribed date is correctly taken as 1757 that would locate it as painted in Britain just after Wilson's return from Italy. There are no other authentic examples of Wilson's portraiture dating from that period, and stylistically the nearest comparisons are P38 Head of an Old Man, Private Collection, England and P39 Head of a Capuchin, Leicester Museum & Art Gallery. There is also an affinity with P37 Portrait of Francesco Zuccarelli, Tate, London. All three works are datable to Wilson's Venetian period and that is also suggested by the free rococo handling of areas of P75 such as the sleeve of the sitter's right arm. Although it is perhaps surprising to find this style repeated by Wilson in 1757 - or indeed to find him painting a portrait at all - there seems no conclusive reason to doubt the painting's authorship as a unique example, given the contemporary signature and inscription and its long-standing presence in the collection of a family known to have patronised Wilson on at least one other occasion.
W.M. Myddelton, ed., Chirk Castle Accounts A.D. 1666-1753, Manchester 1931, p. 501; WGC, pp. 40, 63, 119, 156-57, pl. 11b as 1757; National Trust Guide 1995, no. 13 as Richard Wilson
According to the Chirk Castle Accounts on 23 December 1738 Wilson was paid £6-16s-6d by Robert Myddelton for 'a drawing in a Gilt frame of myself'.
Within a carved and gilded frame, unglazed and not backed, probably dating from the mid-nineteenth century. Some damage to gilding at top and right hand side; losses of carving at lower corners.
Kate Lowry writes: The support is a simple weave, medium weight linen canvas. This has been lined onto an open simple weave linen using a paste adhesive. The adhesion is not strong, but the original support is quite flat and tension is good. There are no tears to the original canvas. The original canvas turnovers survive at all but the lower edge and the support and lining are attached to the stretcher using handmade tacks. Both lining and original turnovers have been trimmed close to the back edge of the stretcher members. The present pine stretcher consists of 4 members and has square mortice joints with provision for keying out. All keys are present and tied in position. Dimensions of stretcher members: 65 mm (width) x 15 mm (thickness). The width of the stretcher members suggests that the stretcher is not the original but one probably fitted at the time of the lining treatment. There is some water staining to the lining canvas and this, coupled with water damage to the top and side of its gilt frame, suggests that there was a leak above the painting at some time as it hung forward of the wall. There is no sign of this drip affecting the upper part of the painting, but old losses to the paint along the lower edge may have been caused by water pooling in the lower frame rebate. The canvas has a commercially-prepared mid-grey oil ground which extends over all remaining turnover edges. This appears to be in good condition with no sign of flaking or loss. There is a general pattern of mature crackle throughout the painting but no drying crackle. Some old paint losses have been filled and retouched along the lower edge of the painting. Otherwise the painting shows little sign of damage. Under UV light an even coating of natural resin varnish is visible overall with two very minor retouches over the varnish at the centre bottom edge and in the background at lower right. The rest of the retouches along the lower edge underlie the present varnish film.