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Solitude - I
Photograph Courtesy of Sotheby's
Studio of Wilson
Solitude - I
Oil on canvas
101.5 x 127 cm
40 x 50 in.
Private Collection, Ireland
An elderly monk and his younger companion pass their days in study and contemplation by a still dark pool. Their peace is contrasted with the violently destroyed sculpture of a lion to the right, whose head lies almost unobserved, looking back towards its own ruins. The rich Italianate landsape is dominated by oak trees, associated in the 18th century with pre-Christian druids. In the far distance a religious ceremony takes place in a sunlit glade. At the lower left is an amphora and ribbon with an illegible inscription.
Ballyorney House, Ireland; J. Gorry, Dublin; with Anthony Mould c. 1976; bt by present owners; Sotheby's London, 4 July 2013 (192)
Unsigned; no inscription; undated
The brushwork in the highlights appears to be of good quality. The ground appears to be off-white or pale grey with pink/brown underpaint clearly visible in the sky. The middle and foreground appear to have a brownish underpaint. The foliage is painted over the sky without leaving any obvious reserve and where branches have been rubbed thin, the sky is intact beneath them. The foliage of the willow tree in the right foreground is particularly mechanical and the rest of the trees in the background do not show the variety of greens and browns expected of Wilson at his best. The thick lines of paint in the clouds are also unconvincing. The painting of the lion sculpture lower right is thin and the foreground foliage lacks variety and substance.
[1] Central vertical of stretcher, white chalk: 7-9
[2] Right vertical of stretcher, white paint: GALLERY FOR CORBETT LINERS from J. GORRY
[3] Left vertical of stretcher, white chalk: 153
Taken from James Thomson's The Seasons: Summer (1730 edition, lines 439-447, slightly modified; 1746 edition, lines 513-521; later editions, lines 516-524):

'Still let me pierce into the midnight Depth
Of yonder Grove, of largest, wildest Growth:
That, forming high in Air a woodland Quire,
Nods o'er the Mount beneath. At every Step,
Solemn, and slow, the Shadows blacker fall,
And all is awful listening Gloom around.
These are the Haunts of Meditation,
These the Scenes Where antient Bards th'inspiring Breath,
Extatic, felt: and from this World retir'd'.

D359 Solitude, Study for a Picture, c.1762, The British Museum (1881,0212.3)
D275 A Great Stone, Italy, The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth / Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru
E44 William Woollett and William Ellis after Wilson Solitude, 1778, National Museum Wales, Cardiff, and other impressions
E57 Charles Duttenhofer after Wilson,Solitude, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven and other impressions
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[1] Johann Christian Reinhart, Arcadian Landscape with Three Figures at a Lake, drawing, 1792, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund (2007.264)
[2] Adolf Friedrich Harper (1725-1806), Landscape with Ruins, 1798, Schlos Ludwigsburg, Germany (3852)
The monks are contrasted with the ruined statue of the lion to suggest that a life contemplating Christian values will lead to a wise and contented old age, whereas leonine violence and aggression will bring only tragic destruction. The glimpse of a Christian religious procession in the far background suggests also a contrast between the contemplative and active life. The rich wooded landscape is a relatively uncharacteristic construction for Wilson. He usually preferred a prospect or a more Claudean approach but this kind of enclosed composition was adumbrated in Italy in the 1750s in such works as P46 Ariccia - I and was subsequently repeated in P182 The Wilderness in St James's Park of the mid-1770s. Solitude first appeared as the title of the composition in the related print by Woollett and Ellis of 1778 (E44 etc.)

David Solkin has argued that the composition gives emblematic form to the notion of rural retirement as a moral activity which allows mankind the opportunity to study and become aware of the greatness of God. This message was designed to appeal to to patrician landowners, who liked to think of themselves as virtuous hermits in the private confines of their country estates. Another 'aristocratic myth' suggested that rural leisure was necessary to the acquisition of wisdom.

Walter Pfeiffer & Marianne Heron, In the Houses of Ireland, New York, 1988, p. 159
Originally the painting was called Landskip with Hermits. The composition, with apparent references to ancient British virtues and liberties, proved popular and Wilson and his studio made a number of copies
Relined. Slightly overcleaned and sky is quite thin, with very rubbed and damaged paint. The impasto in the clouds and tree foliage has been flattened in the lining process.