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The Vale of Narni
Private Collection, England / Photograph by John Hammond
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Vale of Narni
c.1760 (undated)
Oil on canvas
66 x 50.2 cm
26 x 19 1/2 in.
Private Collection, England
In the centre beneath a group of stone pines a man and a woman are holding an animated conversation while next to them on the right two women and a child recline on the ground, surveying the river valley and distant mountains.
Brighton 1920 (39 - The Vale of Narni, near Rome); London 1925 (52 - Italian Scene); Manchester 1925 (26); Exeter 1946 (55); on loan to Kenwood, 1959-60; London 1968 (3); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (79); London, Tate Gallery, Manners & Morals, 1987-88 (212); Conwy 2009 (10); Weston 2011 (12); Tercentenary 2014 (72)
Benjamin Booth by 1790 (34 in MS list); Lady (Marianne) Ford; thence by descent
Signed in monogram on a stone to the right: RW [R reversed]
The upright format is unusual. Solkin has noted that such intricately detailed cabinet pictures, smoothly finished except for the occasional passage of controlled but accentuated impasto, fit most comfortably into the first few years after Wilson's return to England.
The actual Vale of Narni is about 40 miles north of Rome, in Umbria, almost at the geographic centre of Italy. Wilson passed through or near Narni on his way to Rome and he incorporated its famous broken bridge into several capriccios such as P66 Landscape Capriccio on the Via Aemilia, Private Collection, New York. However, the title was given to the present work many years later and the scene may have been invented by Wilson soon after his return to London.
E72/8 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, The Vale of Narni, The British Museum (1854,0708.65) and other impressions
If intended as topographical the view may be along the River Nera valley to the east of Narni, towards the high Apennines in the distance. However, the title is an early 19th century invention deriving from the inscription on Thomas Hastings's etching of 1822 (E72/8). The work may have been painted after Wilson's return to London in 1757. David Solkin has commented that it is more likely to be an invention of the artist intended to be evocative of classical Italy. Robin Simon noted how 'this remarkable painting anticipates later Romantic landscape art in that its true subject is not so much the location as simply and dramatically, a group of trees seen against the light.' Among the most poetic works of Wilson, P102 was the subject of a poem by A.L. Rowse in Poems of Deliverance, 1946.
Booth Notes Doc. 9, p. 2 (34); Connoisseur, May 1920; Rutter 1923, p. 153; Bury 1947, pl. 9; WGC, pp. 26, 75, 89, 122-24, 206, pl. 90b; Rowse 1946; The Studio, February 1958; Howard 1969, p. 732, fig. 24; Hermann 1973, p. 60, pl. 58; Solkin 1982, p. 194 ; Walpole Society 1998-I, p. 15, pl. 17; Lord 2009, p. 52, no. 10; Williams 2011, p. 23, repr.; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 260