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Rome from the Villa Madama
Tomasso Brothers Fine Art, Leeds & London
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Rome from the Villa Madama
Undated
Oil on canvas
76.5 x 63.7 cm
30 1/8 x 25 1/16 in.
P56F
The city of Rome is seen looking towards the south east from the slopes of Monte Mario above the Tiber with the Alban Hills in the distance. To the right the setting sun gives a late afternoon light.
Private Collection, UK
Unsigned; no inscription
The strong diagonal impasto in the sky upper right is unusual for Wilson and may indicate later intervention in that area
[1] Liner's stamp, upper end of middle vertical member of stretcher: J. SPENDER | LINER
[2] Below [1] above, black ink: B [|] 18
[3] Upper horizontal member of stretcher, white chalk: illegible inscription [= Wilson?]
[1] Lower corner of left vertical member of stretcher, old printed label: 39
The view from the Villa Madama is that from which pilgrims, travelling along the via Trionfale, first caught sight of the city of Rome.
D225 Rome from the Villa Madama, Private Collection, England
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This recently discovered landscape is a rarity in Wilson's oeuvre in being upright in format. There are only two other such landscapes of comparable dimensions, both of which postdate the artist's return from Italy: P102 The Vale of Narni, c. 1760 and P177C Pastoral Scene with Musicians by a classical Ruin, early 1770s. Examples of horizontal landscapes of similar dimensions also date from that period, e.g. P91 The Hermitage, Villa Madama, 1760. Other works the same size are all pre-1750 portraits, such as P17 Flora MacDonald, 1747. Furthermore the canvas is English, suggesting either that Wilson must have taken it with him to Italy or that the picture was painted after his arrival back in England. For these reasons its date and function remain uncertain but its quality and the pentiments noted below attest to its authenticity.
WGC, p. 218, pl. 107b - unrecorded; J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Picture, vol 1, British, German, Italian, Spanish, 1985, p. 254, n. 2.
As noted in Solkin 2015 Wilson was the only British landscapist with direct experience of the fabled sites of Roman antiquity until the return of William Marlow from Europe in 1766. James Spender (c.1815-1876) is recorded in London between 1842 and 1874 as a picture liner, cleaner and restorer. 'Mr Spender' at 21 John St advertised two paintings for sale in 1850 (The Times, 13 September 1850). He relined Venice: the Molo from the Bacino di S.Marco after Canaletto, Wallace Collection, London (P514), whose stretcher is stamped J. SPENDER | LINER.
Dimensions of painted area: 75.8 x 62.4 cm (29 13/16 x 24 9/16 in.). Conserved by Martin Wyld, April 2018.
Kate Lowry has noted: Original canvas is English, medium weight simple weave linen. Original turnovers removed probably at the time of lining onto a fine weave linen with paste adhesive. The liner's stamp is impressed into the top member of the stretcher at the reverse: 'J. SPENDER | LINER'. This possibly dates the lining to the mid-19th century. Lining is in good condition. The attachment to stretcher appears sound although paper tape prevented full examination of the lining turnovers. The pine stretcher is not original and probably dates from lining. It consists of seven members with square mortice joints and provision for keying out and is in good condition.
The priming or ground underlying the paint layer is pale in tone, probably white, unlike the larger version of this composition ( P56) which has a pale pink ground. It appears to be a smooth continuous preparation and is in good condition.
Unlike P56 this painting does not include the extra trees at the left hand edge nor the Villa Madama itself to the right. However on close examination of the edges of the painting there was no evidence to show that it was cut down from a larger composition. In fact the rough texture of the edge of the sky at upper right suggests that the paint here extends beyond the priming onto the raw canvas. The feathery foliage of the tree at the left of the composition is very similar to that found in P56 but the buildings of the distant city are more sharply painted in blocks. The mountain is painted up over the sky line rather than the sky being brought down to the mountain, which is often a characteristic of Wilson's paintings. The right hand area of the sky is painted with strong diagonally brushed impasto. The X-ray indicates the typical reserving of the area of most of the tree with only the outer foliage painted over the dense white lead of the sky. There is a pentiment to the right of the plinth in the foreground visible both in normal light and in the X-ray indicating that the artist reduced the size of the plinth during painting. The line of the edge of the foreground has also been lowered during painting. The sculpture found leaning against the plinth in P56 is not present, but a boy herding a cow just below and beyond the right foreground is an additional and, again, typical Wilson motif, which successfully serves to balance the composition. The figures below the tree at the left are also typical in style and well executed. The reflection of the poplars in the distant river and the faint remains of a flock of birds in the centre right sky are nice details.
The painting has been recently cleaned and is in good condition with no major damages. Some minor drying cracks are visible in the distant landscape to the left below the mountain. On the balance of the visual evidence gathered in this examination and from a technical and stylistic point of view I have no problem in accepting the attribution to Wilson.