View of Dover

This item is active and ready to use
View of Dover
View of Dover
View of Dover
Courtesy of Philip Mould & Company
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
View of Dover
c.1746-47 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 101.5 x 142 cm
Imperial: 40 x 56 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. Unusually for seascapes of the period only one ship is seen in any detail and even that is stationary. 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. The only notable human drama is provided by a single ship clearing its guns in the port and a tiny, gesturing figure silhouetted on the cliff-top.
A version - BI 1814 (126; 129 in 2nd ed. of catalogue); Birmingham 1948-49 (8); London 1949 (7)
Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset (1688-1765); possibly with Wright's, Edinburgh as The celebrated Engraved Picture of the View of Dover, 9 December 1829, sold for £40; Lt-Col. R. Cooper; Christie's London, Different Properties, 26 March 1928 (80), bt Leggatt, London (66 gns); with Spink, London; bt by Sir Bruce Ingram; with Spink, London; bt by Viscount Lee of Fareham, 1928; Samuel Courtauld, London,1945; bt by R.A. Butler, 1947; Lady Butler (later Mrs Spencer), Great Yeldham, Essex and thence by descent; Sotheby's London, 8 July 2010 (227); with Philip Mould Ltd, 29 Dover Street London W1S 4NA
Unsigned; no inscription
Techniques and materials
The support has been extended to the right, an indication that this version is probably the original and not a repetition
[1] Upper right: WO12604/1/-
[2] Lord Butler
[3] City of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery | Wilson | View of Dover| Lent R.H. Butler
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
One of the very few landscapes by Wilson that can be dated to before his departure for Italy in 1750. Probably commissioned by or for the Duke of Dorset, who was Constable of Dover Castle. The print by Miller was then probably made after this version in Dorset's collection. This deduction is based on the details of the print, especially the cloud formation on the right and particularities of pathways and figures, which are very close to those of the present version. The size of the painting also suggests a commissioned work from a young artist for prominent display through a wealthy client. The picture has furthermore been extended to the right with an added strip of canvas, indicating that it is not a repetition. Bendor Grosvenor has noted that Wilson provided an adventurous interpretation of the subject, emphasising the sense of space and drama provided by the natural amphitheatre of the cliffs and choosing to concentrate on the unusually rich opportunity Dover afforded to study the juncture between sea, sky and land. Rather than producing an old-fashioned bird's-eye view, Wilson has produced a panoramic scene that centres on the distant castle with its flag-topped keep under a great expanse of sky. The work suggests a familiarity with seventeenth-century Dutch painting, especially the townscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael, and perhaps with contemporary Italian views of the Bay of Naples.
Smith 1828, p. 89; WGC, p. 177, pl. 38a; D. Cooper, The Courtauld Collection: A Catalogue and Introduction, 1954, p. 184, under (241)
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 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' [P14].
Conserved 2010. A strip of canvas about 4 inches wide has been added at the extreme right but the paint surface seems integral with the rest of the painting. A group of three figures has emerged centre left on the lower slopes of the hill. There is much fine, crisp detailing in the picture but also some areas of sunk or hardened paint or varnish.