Wilson Online Reference
Cunningham 1829
Allan Cunningham
The Lives of the most eminent British Painters, Sculptors and Architects
John Murray
London, UK
Date of Publication
Secondary published
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Vol. 1. Wilson appears on pp. 187-204, after the two opening chapters on 'The Early Painters' and Hogarth, and before Reynolds and Gainsborough. His chapter is preceded by an engraving after NWP1 Mengs's portrait of Wilson by Thomas Mosses and includes a print by the same engraver after P92 An Italian Landscape, Morning [opp. p. 202]
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Highlights from the text include: 'His landscapes are fanned with the pure air, warmed with the glowing suns, filled with the ruined temples, and sparkling with the wooded streams and tranquil lakes of that classic region [Italy]. His reputation rose so fast that he obtained pupils. Mengs, out of regard for his genius, painted his portrait; and Wilson repaid this flattery with a fine landscape.' [p. 190] 'On his arrival in London, he took apartments on the north side of Covent Garden, where Lely, Kneller and Thornhill had lived and laboured, and associated with all men distinguished for taste and talent.' [p. 190] 'Wilson had a poet's feeling and a poet's eye, selected his scenes with judgment, and spread them out in beauty and in all the fresh luxury of nature. He did for landscape what Reynolds did for faces - with equal genius but far different fortune.' [pp. 191-92] 'The demand for the pictures of Barret was so great, that the income of that indifferent dauber rose to two thousand pounds a-year; and the equally weak landscapes of Smith of Chichester were of high value in the market' [p. 192] 'It is related that, at a meeting of the members of the Academy on a social occasion, Reynolds proposed the health of Gainsborough as the best landscape-painter; on which Wilson added aloud, and the best portrait-painter too.' [p. 196] 'Nor was the President of the Academy the only person who distressed him with injurious opinions. A certain coterie of men, skilful in the mystery of good painting, came to the conclusion, that the works of Wilson were deficient in the gayer graces of style, and sent Penny, an academician whom Barry worshipped as one of the chief painters on earth, to remonstrate with the artist, and inform him, that, if he hoped for fame or their good opinion, he must imitate the lighter style of Zuccarelli. Wilson was busied on one of his works when this courier from the Committee of Taste announced himself and delivered his message. He heard him in silence - proceeded with his labours - then stopt suddenly, and poured forth a torrent of contemptuous words - which incensed the whole coterie, and induced them to withdraw any little protection which their opinion had extended over him.' [pp. 196-97] 'As the fortune of Wilson declined - his temper became touched - he grew peevish and in conversation his language assumed a tone of sharpness and acidity which accorded ill with his warm and benevolent heart.' [p. 197] When Zoffani, in his satiric picture of the Royal Academy, represented him with a pot of porter at his elbow, he instantly selected [ ... ] a proper stout stick, and vowed he would give the caricaturist a satisfactory thrashing. All who knew Wilson made sure he would keep his word; but Zoffani prudently passed his brush over the offensive part, and so escaped the cudgelling.' [p. 197] 'He was fond of the company of Sir William Beechey, and at his house he frequently reposed from the cares of the world and the persecution of fortune,. He was abstemious at his meals, rarely touching wine or ardent spirits - his favourite beverage was a pot of porter and a toast' [ ... ] [pp. 197-98] 'His process of painting was simple; his colours were few, he used but one brush, and worked standing. He prepared his palette, made a few touches, then retired to the window, to refresh his eye with natural light, and returned in a few minutes and resumed his labours.' [p. 198] '"Beechey", he said, "you will live to see great prices given for my pictures, when those of Barret will not fetch one farthing."' [p. 199] '[ ... ] as fortune forsook him he left a fine house for one inferior - a fashionable street for one cheap and obscure; he made sketches for half-a-crown, and expressed gratitude to one Paul Sanby [sic] for purchasing a number from him at a small advance of price. His last retreat in this wealthy city was a small room somewhere about Tottenham-Court-Road;' [p. 199] 'He was fortunate in little in life - his view from Kew Gardens [P108 or P109], though exquisite in colour and simplicity of arrangement, was returned by the King for whom it was painted.' [p. 203] 'In person he was above the middling size; his frame was robust and inclining to be corpulent; his head was large and his face red and blotchy; he wore a wig with the tail plaited into a club and a three-cocked hat according to the fashion of his time.' [p. 204]
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2019-12-02 00:00:00