The White Monk - III

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The White Monk - III
The White Monk - III
The White Monk - III
Private Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library
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Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The White Monk - III
Oil on canvas
Metric: 54.4 x 72.3 cm
Imperial: 20 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.
Private Collection, UK
Wilson Online Reference
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 a gabled building, 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.
Denver Art Museum, 600 Years of British Painting: The Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, 1998-99
Commissioned in Rome by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, c.1754-55, or perhaps bought by him from Jacob, 2nd Earl of Radnor (1749-1828), Longford Castle, Wiltshire or the Hon. Edward Bouverie in 1799; by descent to John Sutherland Egerton, 5th Earl of Ellesmere, later 6th Duke of Sutherland (1915-2000); Ellesmere sale, Christie's London, 18 October 1946 (175), bt Drown (350 gns); anonymous sale [The Property of a deceased Estate]; Sotheby's, London, 9 April 1997 (54); William and Bernadette Berger, Denver Collection, Denver; Christie's, New York, 26 January 2001 (63); Private Collection, Ireland; Christie's London, 6 December 2018 (34); Private Collection, UK
Unsigned; no inscription
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.
Related Prints
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)
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Related Paintings
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), Sheffield Galleries and Museums
Critical commentary
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). P146, 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 with stick 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). In view of its provenance from the Duke of Bridgewater's collection, P146 is likely to be the version of the painting from which James Roberts took his engraving (E17 &c).
W.Y. Ottley, The Marquis of Stafford's Collection of Pictures, London 1818, vol. 4, p. 141, no. 5, Class VI, repr.; Hazlitt 1843-44, vol. 2, p. xlv, no. 290 Landscape, with Figures seated; WGC, pp. 89 & 228, pl. 123a type III (version 3); 600 Years of British Painting: The Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, 1998-99, Denver 1998, p. 227, repr; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 137, fig. 115; P. Humfrey, 'The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater as a Collector of Old Master Paintings', Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 27, no. 2, 2015, pp. 214, 224, n. 28; M. Postle, 'Meditations on The White Monk' in J. Clifton & M. Kervandjian eds., A Golden Age of European Art: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, 2016, pp. 100-113, esp. pp. 103-104; P. Humfrey, The Stafford Gallery, 2019, pp. 56, 58, fig. 29
Link to WG Constable Archive Record
More Information
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. With the possible exception of the present work, 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.
Relined pre-1946. Much restored and paint surface squeezed and flattened, especially in the sky.
Updated by Compiler
2022-05-04 00:00:00