Wilson Online Reference
Smith 1828
John Thomas Smith
Nollekens and his Times
Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street
Date of Publication
Primary published
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Published in two volumes by J.T Smith, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. The full title of the work is: Nollekens and his Times: Comprehending a Life of that celebrated Sculptor; and Memoirs of several contemporary Artists, from the Time of Roubiliac, Hogarth, and Reynolds, to that of Fuseli, Flaxman, and Blake. Chapter 5 contains sections on Nollekens's father-in-law, Saunders Welch (1711-1784), a modest patron of Wilson, which leads into reminiscences of the artist himself - not all of them reliable (pp. 136-142).
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Mr. Welch [...] once kindly blamed Wilson, the Landscape-painter, when he found him in a dejected state. 'You never come to dine with me', said he, 'though you used to partake of my round of beef, and I am sure we have had many pleasant hours together.' Poor Wilson, who had existed for some time without selling a picture, regretted that Mr. Welch was not a collector of paintings. 'I certainly do not understand them, my good fellow', said he; 'however, if you will dine with me next Monday week, I will then bespeak a fifteen-guinea picture of you.' Wilson pronounced him to be a noble creature, and taking him by the hand, added, 'Heaven knows where I may be by that time.' Mr. Welch then asked him, 'Are you engaged tomorrow?' 'No', replied he. 'Well then, returned his friend, 'if you will send a picture to my house, and join me at dinner, I will pay you the money.' What person possessing the feelings of an English artist, can hear the name of Wilson mentioned without secretly exulting that he was a native of our envied Island? and those who have perused the works of Dr. Wolcot, must have been pleased at the homage which even that sarcastic genius paid to 'Red-nosed Dick.' With my humble share of knowledge in Painting, I must, without fear of depriving either Turner, Callcott or Arnald, of one jot of their high celebrity, affirm that Wilson was a Leviathan in his profession; and this also was the opinion of a skilful practitioner, and one of the first judges of art, - I allude to the late ever-to-be-lamented Sir George Beaumont, Bart. [...] Mr. Welch, in the course of a few months, repeated to Wilson the proposition of sporting a round of beef and of making another fifteen-guinea purchase; and in this manner he became possessed of the two beautiful pictures which descended to Mr. Nollekens, of which some farther particulars will be found in another part of this work. As to the picture of Dover Castle [P14], which Mr. Nollekens also possessed, Mr. Welch purchased it at a furniture sale, by Wilson's recommendation, assuring him that it was the best picture he had ever painted. The town-residence of that excellent connoisseur, Richard Ford, Esq. boasts a most splendid collection of Wilson's pictures in every variety of his manner. This incomparable assemblage, which consists of nearly fifty specimens, had been the property of Lady Ford, his mother, who, upon his marriage, most liberally presented them to him; her Ladyship became possessed of them at the death of her father. The same gentleman has also many of Wilson's finest drawings from nature, which he principally made when studying at Rome; one of which is particularly interesting, since it contains Wilson's own figure, seated on the ground in his bag-wig, making a drawing of Raffaelle's villa [D225]. The late Paul Sandby, Esq. once showed me a fine collection of Wilson's drawings, to which he attached the following anecdote. Wilson, well-knowing the frequent intercourse Mr. Sandby had with some of the highest persons in the country, solicited him to show a portfolio of his drawings to his pupils. Paul Sandby, with his usual liberality, did so, and spake highly in their favour; but found that the amateurs, or gentlemen-draughtsmen, preferred highly finished drawings to mere sketches; and finding his repeated attempts to serve his old friend Wilson fruitless, was induced to make the purchase himself, without allowing him to know that he had been unsuccessful. My father was well acquainted with Wilson, he having frequently met him at the house of Mr. Wilton, the Sculptor, who then possessed the Niobe, so nobly presented, with other grand pictures, to the National Gallery, by Sir George Beaumont [P90B]. Wilson's nose had then grown to such an enormous size, that usually he held up his pocket-handkerchief to hide it; and I recollect that one morning when going to school, as I was about to cross Queen-Anne-street, Mr. Wilson was so infirm, that he called to me, 'Little boy, let me lean upon your shoulder to cross the way.' Before he went to Rome, and also on his return to England, he resided in the Piazza, Covent-garden; he also lived for some time in Charlotte-street, Rathbone-place, and afterwards in Norton-street. My father's play-fellow, the late Mr. Seguier, of laughing memory, assured me, that just before poor Wilson left London, he repeated his request respecting the sweepings of his garret. Mr. Seguier, who had occasionally made a five guinea purchase of him, was then tempted from Wilson's appearance to go to him, and received as many of his sketches as he thought worth his money; and so trifling were the prices at that time given for modern pictures that Mr. Seguier sold the best of that purchase for a guinea and a half to my father. I have also heard Mr. Nollekens state, that Wilson considered fifteen guineas a good price for a three-quarter picture. Wilson was fond of playing at skittles, and frequented the Green Man public-house, in the New-road, at the end of Norton-street, originally known under the appellation of 'The Farthing Pye House;' where bits of mutton were put into a crust shaped like a pie, and actually sold for a farthing. [...] Wilkes was a frequenter of this house to procure votes for Middlesex, as it was visited by many opulent freeholders. Although much has been published upon the private and professional life of Richard Wilson, I shall venture to insert a few additional particulars. Mr. Wilson was originally a Portrait-painter of great merit; and his pupil, the late Mr. Brooks, had seen several of his pictures. I have one from his pencil of my great uncle Admiral Smith, better known for his daring bravery, under the appellation of 'Tom of Ten Thousand,' in memory of whom I have the honour to boast the name of Thomas. [P9A?] Wilson first painted landscapes in the manner of Marco Ricci and Zuccarelli, with the latter of whom he was intimately acquainted. In 1758, Mr. Wilson went to Rome, where he was liberally patronized by the late William Locke, Esq. and his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, who purchased two pictures of him, viz. the Niobe [P90] and the Apollo, for each of which he received one hundred guineas. Mr. Nollekens informed me that, before he went to Rome, Wilson, who was a member of the Academy in St. Martin's Lane, always attended the meetings superbly dressed; and his waistcoat was particularly attractive, being of the richest green satin, ornamented with gold lace. Mr. Nollekens also stated, that on his return to England, he was invited by his old friend Hodges* to accompany him to see Wilson, whose pupil he had been, and who then lived in the North Piazza, Covent-garden. He stated likewise that they were much interested at Wilson's, by a model made in wood, of a portion of the Piazza, the whole measuring about six feet from the floor, including the stand. This he used as a receptacle for his painting implements; the rustic work of the piers was divided into drawers, and the openings of the arches were filled with pencils, and oil bottles. This truly interesting toy of this celebrated artist, Mr Brooks informed me, was sold to a broker, when Wilson finally left London for Wales, for the sum of about four pounds. [*Footnote on William Hodges].
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2020-01-03 00:00:00