A View of Dover (A View of Dover Castle)

A View of Dover (A View of Dover Castle)
A View of Dover (A View of Dover Castle)
A View of Dover (A View of Dover Castle)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
A View of Dover (A View of Dover Castle)
1746-47 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 43.2 x 54.6 cm
Imperial: 17 x 21 1/2 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
In the foreground is a steep hill, at the foot of which are figures; in the centre, there is a view over the roofs of the town and the bay to the castle on top of the cliffs in the background; there is shipping in the harbour. The sea is calm and the castle, while prominent, is obliquely lit and almost incidental to the composition; most of the town and port is in shadow.
A version - BI 1814 (126; 129 in 2nd ed. of catalogue); London 1925; Richmond 1963 (17); London 1964-65 (57); New Haven 1965 (226); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (10); Denver 1993 (6); YCBA 2017, Art in Focus: The British Castle - A Symbol in Stone (2)
Saunders Welch (1711-1784); his daughter, Anne Welch; her sister, Mrs Maria Nollekens; Joseph Nollekens R.A.; sold Christie's 4-5 July 1823 (118); Lt. Gen. William Thornton, M.P. for Woodstock, Grosvenor Gate, London; David Allan, Glasgow; sold Christie's, 28 January 1882 (175, as by Turner), bt in; B.W. Allan, Glasgow, sold Christie's, Different Properties, 26 March 1926 (23), bt Mace for Sir Alec Martin; Lady Martin until 1962; Leggatt Bros, from whom purchased by Paul Mellon, March 1963
Unsigned; no inscription
Techniques and materials
The background has been carefully painted.The foreground is less well articulated. No birds are visible in the sky. Note the two figures in silhouette top left and the small figures going about their business in the foreground. The approach is almost miniaturist. General lighting shows a strong command but the foreground is very dark. Detailed lining of the sea at the shoreline.
Dover Castle, one of the largest in Britain, had been rebuilt in the 1180s when Henry II added a massive keep and concentric walls. Over time the defences were further enlarged and improved as befitted a fortress guarding the shortest crossing point from England to Europe. When this picture was painted new barracks had just been built within its walls.
Related Prints
John Sebastian Miller, View of Dover, engraving, published 8 April 1747
See 'Links' tab
Related Works by Other Artists
[1] Anonymous, View of Dover Castle, Walmer Castle, English Heritage Collection
[2] George Lambert Dover Castle, 1735, Goodwood House and other versions
[3] Arthur Nelson, An Extensive View of Dover, c. 1767, Dover Museum
Critical commentary
Katherine Baetjer has commented that the work testifies to the limits of our knowledge of Wilson's activity as a landscape painter prior to his departure for Italy in 1750. It is superior in quality to P14B in the collection of the National Museum Wales and has been argued as the source of Miller's engraving of the subject, though differing in some passages, particularly in its broadly defined foreground and staffage. It has the quality of a sketch, possibly one that was painted out of doors and it could have served as the model for a finished canvas that was turned over to the engraver. The range of colour is narrow but the brushwork is free and assured, convincingly defining the underlying structure and contours of the coast, the angular silhouettes of the houses in the town and the glancing quality and tone of natural light.
Previous Cat/Ref Nos
Object ID: 382
Smith 1828, p. 89; J.B. Manson, 'The Richard Wilson Exhibition at Millbank', Burlington Magazine, Vol. XLVII, no.267, July 1925, pp. 34-40, pl. 1B; Waterhouse 1953, pp.174, 179, n.4; WGC, pp. 21, 70, 177, pl. 38b; Constable 1954, p.144; Douglas Cooper, The Courtauld Collection, a Catalogue and Introduction, 1954, p.184 (under 241); Taylor 1963, cat. 17; Taylor 1964, cat.57; Taylor 1965, cat. 226; Solkin 1982 pp.150-151; Edwin Mullins ed., The Arts of Britain, 1983, repr. detail; Cormack 1985, pp. 250 & 251; Juan J. Luna, 'Pintura Britanica (1500-1820)', XXXIII, Summa Artis Madrid, 1989, repr.; Baetjer 1993, pp. 98-99; Barringer & Fairclough 2014, pp. 116-117; Wilson and Europe 2014, pp. 190-91, fig.151.
Link to WG Constable Archive Record
More Information
Dover Castle was described by Daniel Defoe in a A Tour through the whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27) as 'old, useless, decay'd and serves for little; but to give the title and honour of government to men of quality, with a salary, and sometimes to those who want one.' Nevertheless a castle on this site had stood fast against foreign invasion since the eleventh century and Wilson's composition suitably emphasises the guardianship of the castle over sea and land. Two views of Dover are recorded in the early literature. J.T. Smith, in his Life of Nollekens (p. 89), mentions the current work as a picture of Dover '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 painted'.
Kate Lowry has noted:
Original turnover edges have been removed and the work has been glue relined. Five member stretcher probably dates from relining; but definitely not original. Square mortice joints with provision for keying out. X-ray shows extensions to canvas at lower and right hand edges, stitched to the 'original' canvas; extension at right is 3/4 in. wide and that at lower edge about 1/2 in. wide. Their outer edges are uneven which suggests they predate the lining, but the canvas weave as seen in X-ray does not match the rest of the canvas. In addition the right hand edge of the 'original' canvas has weave cusping as though once attached to a stretcher at this edge. To confirm the status of the 'extensions' XRF was used to analyse the paint/ground materials present. Comparison of the spectra from the original and additional strips showed no clear distinction between the two areas. Paint samples were taken from 'original' edge and from extension edges and these proved fairly conclusively that the extensions formed part of the original work and are not later additions. Ground film where visible at top edge appears to be a very pale pink; under magnification it looks warm white with a thin layer of warm tone over this. Cross-sections from both main canvas and extensions show that the white ground has been covered by a very thin layer of red ochre before the laying in of the sky paint. Conservation record dated 2004 notes discolouration of retouches along lower and right hand edges, as well as discoloured retouches in the sky. The lower edge was retouched again in 2004 to improve the general appearance.