The White Monk - I

The White Monk - I
The White Monk - I
The White Monk - I
Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio). Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey. Photographed by Photography Incorporated, Toledo
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The White Monk - I
c.1760-62 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 66 x 80 cm
Imperial: 26 x 31 1/2 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
In the foreground two lovers are seated on the grass under a parasol. On the left is a prominent boulder, against which rests a stick. There are two large trees and a prominent sapling on the right and in the left middle distance, a wooded cliff and promontory, on the edge of which is silhouetted a gabled chapel with religious figures in obeisance before it. A hilltop town and mountains are in the background.
London 1925 (29 - Italian Landsape - The White Monk); Manchester 1925 (63); Birmingham 1948-49 (57 - wrong dimensions cited); London 1949 (56 - wrong dimensions cited); 1953, on loan to Salford Museum; London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (103); Madrid 1988-89 (9); Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney, YCBA New Haven 2001 and Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, 2001-2 (20); New York 2010 (9); Tercentenary 2014 (96 - exhibited at YCBA only)
Possibly Sir John Charles Robinson; Augustus Bampfylde, 2nd Baron Poltimore (1837-1908); James Orrock (1829-1913), 48, Bedford Square, London; 1st Viscount Leverhulme; 1910 Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight (627); with Arthur Tooth, London 1934; deaccessioned 1958; Thomas Agnew & Sons, London; bt by Edward Drummond Libbey and given to the Toledo Museum of Art, 1958
Inscribed on the rock at lower left: W
Techniques and materials
There is a pentiment in the foliage profile on the cliff
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 Drawings
D344 Banks of the Tiber 1757, Rhode Island Museum of Art, School of Design, Providence
Related Prints
E17 James Roberts after Wilson, The White Monk (Untitled), The British Museum and other impressions
E72/22 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, The White Monk, 1822, The British Museum (1854,0708.79) and other impressions
See 'Links' tab
Related Paintings
P145 The White Monk - II, The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston
P145A The White Monk - II, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
P145B The White Monk - II, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton
P146 The White Monk - III, Private Collection
P146A The White Monk - III, Gemaldegalerie Alta Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
P146B The White Monk - III, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
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), Museums Sheffield
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 - the figure in grey appears to be flagellating the monk in white - 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 monks 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). In this first of three main variants of the composition, two figures are shown seated under the parasol and there is a sapling behind and to the left of the trees at the right. A gabled chapel is silhouetted at the extremity of the cliffs instead of the more usual wayside cross. The present work is stylistically datable among the earliest and is also among the most highly finished. It is closely linked to a studio painting without the figures by the parasol, recently attributed to William Hodges by Jonathan Yarker (P147). 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).
Previous Cat/Ref Nos
R.R. Tatlock, R. Fry, R.L. Hobson, P. Macquoid & C.R. Grundy, A Record of the Collections in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, formed by the First Viscount Leverhulme, vol. 1, 1928, p. 69, no. 627, pl. 44; The Connoisseur, March 1952; Bury 1947, p. 68; WGC, pp. 227-30, pl. 122a; E.P. Lawson, 'The Pastoral Scene', Toledo Museum of Art News, vol. 3, no. 2 (Spring 1960), pp. 35, 36 (repr.); 'Accessions of American and Canadian Museums', Art Quarterly, vol. 23, no. 3, (Autumn 1960, pp. 302, 314 (repr.); O. Wittmann, 'Treasures at Toledo, Ohio', Apollo, January 1965, p. 29; Toledo Museum of Art, European Paintings, Toledo 1976, p. 362, pl. 317; H. Behm, 'Ein Begrunder der Englischen Landschaftsmaleriei', Weltkunst, vol. 53, no. 4, (15 February 1983), p. 411, pl. 6; Solkin 1982, pp. 66-70, 214-15; M. Warner and R. Asleson, Great British Paintings from American Collections, 2001, pp. 97-99; M.A. Pelizzari, ed., Traces of India: Photography, Architecture and the Politics of Representation, 1850-1900, New Haven and London, 2003, pp. 70-71, fig. 5; Feigen 2010, unpaginated; Wilson and Europe 2014, pp. 280-81; 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, 106 & 109
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. All seem to have been executed in Britain after the painter's return from Italy in 1757 and most of them after 1765, when an engraving was published by James Roberts (E17). None, however, seem to have been exhibited during Wilson's lifetime. 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.
Mounted in a rococo frame
Updated by Compiler
2020-11-17 00:00:00