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The White Monk - III
Private Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The White Monk - III
Undated
Oil on canvas
54.4 x 72.3 cm
20 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.
Private Collection, Ireland
P146
In the foreground two women are resting on the grass while a rider descends behind the bank to their left. There are two large trees and a sapling on the right and in the left middle distance, a wooded cliff with a waterfall, surmounted by a gabled building, and a 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. P146 is distinguished from other versions by the absence of a parasol and in having two women only under the tree at the right. A gabled building replaces a tower at the extreme left.
Denver Art Museum, 600 Years of British Painting: The Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, 1998-99
Commissioned in Rome by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, c. 1754-55 or perhaps bought by him from Jacob, 2nd Earl of Radnor (1749-1828), Longford Castle in 1799; by descent to John Sutherland Egerton, 5th Earl of Ellesmere, later 6th Duke of Sutherland (1915-2000); Ellesmere sale, Christie's London, 18 October 1946 (175), bt Drown (350 gns); anonymous sale [The Property of a deceased Estate]; Sotheby's, London, 9 April 1997 (54); William and Bernadette Berger, Denver Collection, Denver; Christie's, New York, 26 January 2001 (63), when acquired by the present owner; Christie's London, 6 December 2018 (34)
Unsigned; no inscription
The subject and thence the meaning remain open to multiple interpretations. Solkin memorably explained the work's 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 religious figures 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.
E17 James Roberts after Wilson, The White Monk (Untitled), The British Museum
E17A James Roberts after Wilson, The White Monk (Untitled), National Museum Wales, Cardiff
E68 Anonymous after Wilson, The White Monk, c. 1818, The British Museum (1860,0211.611) and other impressions
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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
P145 Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - II, The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston
P145A Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - II, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
P145B Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782), The White Monk - II, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton
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), Sheffield Galleries and Museums
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 Vicovaro in 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 third of three main variants of the composition, two women are shown seated on the ground and there is a sapling behind and to the left of the trees at the right but no large boulder at the left. A wayside cross is silhouetted at the extremity of the cliffs with religious figures in prayer before it. At the summit is a gabled building.

In view of its provenance from the Duke of Bridgewater's collection, this is likely to be the version of the painting from which James Roberts took his engraving (E17 &c). However, 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 (E72/22).
W.Y. Ottley, The Marquis of Stafford's Collection of Pictures, London 1818, vol. 4, p. 141, no. 5, Class VI, repr.; WGC, pp. 89 & 228, pl. 123a type III (version 3); 600 Years of British Painting: The Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, 1998-99, Denver 1998, p. 227, repr; Wilson and Europe 2014 , p. 137, fig. 115; P. Humfrey, 'The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater as a Collector of Old Master Paintings', Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 27, no. 2, 2015, pp. 214, 224, n. 28
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.
Relined pre-1946. Much restored and paint surface squeezed and flattened, especially in the sky.