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The White Monk - I
Private Collection
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The White Monk - I
Oil on canvas
43.2 x 58.4 cm
17 x 23 in.
Private Collection
P144F
In the foreground two lovers are seated on the grass under a parasol. On the left 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 and promontory, on the edge of which is silhouetted a wayside cross with religious figures before it. A hilltop town and mountains are in the background.
On loan from Dr J.S. Thacher to the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, 1938-41
Earl Howe; Colnaghi, London; Dr. John S. Thacher, Washington, DC by 1936; The Harry Calsing Trust, Cleveland, Ohio; Sotheby's New York sale 6798 1/11/96 (274); Aspire Online Auctions 29 August - 6 September 2014 (16); Private Collection, London
Unsigned; no inscription
[1] On left of the central horizontal stretcher bar: Fogg Art Museum / Richard Wilson / The White Monk / No. 53.1938 / Lent by Dr. John S. Thacher
[2] On left of the central horizontal stretcher bar: Fogg Museum of Art / LOAN / 172.1941
[3] On the crossing of the stretcher bars: Fogg Art Museum / Loan / No. 264.1939
[4] On right of upper horizontal stretcher bar: Museum label
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 a reassuring of a world anchored in divinely ordained harmony and reinforcing the moral certitude and authority of the patrician class who patronised the artist.
D344 Banks of the Tiber 1757, Rhode Island Museum of Art, School of Design, Providence
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
P145 The White Monk - II, The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston
P145A The White Monk - II, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
P145B The White Monk - II, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton
P146 The White Monk - III, Private Collection
P146A The White Monk - III, Gemaldegalerie Alta Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
P146B 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 first of three main variants of the composition, two figures are shown seated under the parasol and there is a sapling behind and to the left of the trees at the right.The present work is stylistically datable among the earliest and is also among the most highly finished. It is closely linked to a studio painting without the figures by the parasol, recently attributed to William Hodges by Jonathan Yarker (Royal Academy of Arts, London, 03/1083) without the figures by the parasol.

The popular 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.
WGC, p. 228, pl. 122a (version 4)
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.
Cleaned 2014. Dimensions framed: 24 x 30 1/2 in. The old gilt frame was decorative with a nameplate. A period one has been substituted by the pressent owner. According to the Aspire Auction catalogue entry, there is an old glue reline, with craquelure, older layers of varnish and touches of inpainting throughout.