Solitude - I

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Solitude - I
Solitude - I
Solitude - I
City & County of Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Collection
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Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Solitude - I
Dated 1762
Oil on canvas
Metric: 100.3 x 125.1 cm
Imperial: 39 1/2 x 49 1/4 in.
Accession Number
GV 1971-2
Wilson Online Reference
An elderly bearded monk or hermit and his younger seated companion pass the day in study and contemplation by a still dark pool. Their peace is contrasted with the shattered sculpture of a lion to the right, whose head lies on the ground, almost unobserved, looking back towards its own ruins. The rich wooded landscape is dominated by oak trees, associated in the 18th century with pre-Christian druids. In the far distance a religious ceremony takes place in a sunlit glade with a monastery visible beyond. At the lower left is an amphora next to an overturned milestone [?] with a barely legible inscription.
SA 1762 (132 - A Landskip, with Hermits); London, Martin and Sewell, Nov. 1970 - Jan. 1971; Paris 1972 (336); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (101); Oriel 31, Davies Memorial Gallery, Newtown, Powys, 1990/1991; Swansea 1999 (1); Tercentenary 2014 (86)
Edward Wilson Parker, Skirwith Abbey, Cumberland; Christie's 2 July 1909 (101), bt Wyatt (350 gns); acquired 1971 with V&A/Purchase Grant aid
Signed and dated on the rock lower left: RW [monogram, R reversed], 1762
From 1778 at latest the composition was linked to James Thomson's very popular poem, The Seasons - Summer (1730 edition, lines 439-447, slightly modified; 1746 edition, lines 513-521; later editions, lines 516-524):

'Still let me pierce into the midnight Depth
Of yonder Grove, of wildest, largest Growth:
That, forming high in Air a woodland Quire,
Nods o'er the Mount beneath. At every Step,
Solemn, and slow, the Shadows blacker fall,
And all is awful listening Gloom around.
These are the Haunts of Meditation,
These the Scenes Where antient Bards th'inspiring Breath,
Extatic, felt: and from this World retir'd.'
Related Drawings
D275 A Great Stone, Italy, The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth / Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru
D359 Solitude, Study for a Picture, c.1762, The British Museum (1881,0212.3)
Related Prints
E44 William Woollett and William Ellis after Wilson Solitude, 1778, National Museum Wales, Cardiff, and other impressions.
E57 Charles Duttenhofer after Wilson, Solitude, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven and other impressions
See 'Links' tab
Related Works by Other Artists
[1] Thomas Smith of Derby, Solitude, 1758, etching and engraving, Derby Museums Trust and other impressions
[2] Johann Christian Reinhart, Arcadian Landscape with Three Figures at a Lake, drawing, 1792, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund (2007.264)
[3] Adolf Friedrich Harper (1725-1806), Landscape with Ruins, 1798, Schloss Ludwigsburg, Germany (3852)
Critical commentary
The contemplatives on the left are contrasted with the ruined statue of the lion to suggest that a life meditating on Christian values will lead to a wise and contented old age, whereas leonine violence and aggression will bring only tragic destruction. The glimpse of a sunlit Christian ceremony in the far background underlines this belief. The rich wooded landscape is a relatively uncharacteristic construction for Wilson. He usually preferred a prospect or a more Claudean setting but introduced this kind of enclosed composition in Italy in the 1750s in such works as P46 Ariccia - I and subsequently repeated it e.g. in P182 The Wilderness in St James's Park of the mid-1770s. When first exhibited, the painting was called A Landskip, with Hermits; Solitude first appeared as its title via the related print by Woollett and Ellis of 1778 (E44 etc.) David Solkin has argued that the composition gives emblematic form to the notion of rural retirement as a moral activity which allows mankind the opportunity to study and become aware of the greatness of God. This message was designed to appeal to patrician landowners, who liked to think of themselves as virtuous recluses in the private confines of their country estates - an 'aristocratic myth', suggesting that rural leisure was necessary to the acquisition of wisdom. The composition, with apparent references to ancient British virtues and liberties, proved popular and Wilson and his studio made a number of copies.
WGC p. 169 (recorded lost version 10 of pl. 28a); Herrmann 1973, p. 59, pl. 55; Solkin 1982, pp. 70-74, 212-13; Themes and Variations 1999, pp. 14-15 repr.; R. Moisan, J. Williamson & R. Simon, 'X-ray of Wilson's Solitude: Hermits and Nudes', British Art Journal, Vol. 1, no. 2, Spring 2000, p. 69; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 270; 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) pp. 110-111; D. Stacey, 'Thomas Smith of Derby (1720-67)' British Art Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, Autumn 2016, pp. 10-11.
Link to WG Constable Archive Record
More Information
X-radiography has revealed nude female figures under the current composition. These were possibly related to The Destruction of the Children of Niobe (P90 and versions) but more likely to Diana and Actaeon (P63 & P63A), which Wilson had painted during the 1750s. The subject thus appears to have been changed at an early stage, or the canvas reused.
Glazed, framed and relined. X-rays reveal that the painting has been changed considerably. A pentiment lower right indicates that the torso of the broken lion sculpture was once complete.
Updated by Compiler
2022-09-23 00:00:00