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The White Monk - III
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Photo: Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klutbaby
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The White Monk - III
c.1765 (undated)
Oil on canvas
56.8 x 72.3 cm
22 1/4 x 28 1/2 in.
2013/01
P146A
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 buildings, 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.
RA Old Masters 1873 (41 - Italian Scene, 21 x 27 in., lent Anderdon)
James Hughes Anderdon, Upper Grosvenor Street, London; sold by his executors, Christie's, 31 May 1879 (probably 273 - An Italian River Landscape with Figures, £65); Regendanz sale, Christie's 30 June 1950 (162), bt Ralph Edwards; Anon sale Christie's 15 July 1983 (78); Anon sale Sotheby's London, 8 April 1992 (75); Sotheby's London, 10 April 2013 (147), bt Dresden
The landscape in the middle distance is fluent and worthy of Wilson. Figures are indifferent and rather timidly described before the cross. Light grey/brown ground.
[1] 'G' in red wax seal at crossover of stretcher bars
[2] Christie's sale stamp on vertical stretcher bar (erased and illegible)
[1] Verso upper horizontal stretcher bar: remains of handwritten label from RA exhibition 1873 giving lender's name as J.H. Anderdon
The subject and thence the meaning remain open to multiple interpretations. David 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 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 and other impressions
E68 Anonymous after Wilson, The White Monk, c. 1818, The British Museum and other impressions
E70 Samuel Middiman after Wilson, The White Monk (Landscape with two Pilgrims praying at a wooden Cross on Rocks at the left), The British Museum and other impressions
E72/22 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, The White Monk, 1822, The British Museum (1854,0708.79)
See 'Links' tab
P144 Richard Wilson, The White Monk - I, Toledo Museum of Art
P144A Richard Wilson 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, The White Monk - I, Private Collection
P145 Richard Wilson, The White Monk - II, The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston
P145A Richard Wilson, The White Monk - II, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
P145B Richard Wilson, 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), Museums Sheffield
As noted by Martin Postle (Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 281) 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 W.G. 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 religious observants 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). P146A, the third of the three main variants of the composition, includes a sapling behind and to the left of the trees at the right but no large boulder in the left foreground. It is distinguished by the absence of a parasol and in having two women only under the tree at the right. A gabled building replaces the more usual tower at the extreme left. 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 (E72/22).
WGC, p. 228 pl. 123a type III, version 5; B. Maaz, 'Richard Wilsons The White Monk (Der weisse Mönch) in der Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister: Emblematische Landschaft und philosophisches Konzept', Kunstblätter 4, 2013, pp. 55-59
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 the engraving was published by James Roberts (E17 &c.). Nevertheless the composition does not seem to have been exhibited. Three main variant compositions were defined by W.G. Constable and the present compiler has retained his system, entitling them The White Monk - I, etc.
Lined. Some paint abrasion in the cliff face. There is clumsy infilling at the fork of the tree on the right and round the building upper left.
07/01/2021