Caernarvon Castle

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Caernarvon Castle
Caernarvon Castle
Caernarvon Castle
The Detroit Institute of Arts / The Bridgeman Art Library
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Caernarvon Castle
c.1744-45 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 82.6 x 114.3 cm
Imperial: 32 1/2 x 45 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
The castle is shown from the south, with the triple-turreted Eagle Tower at its western end and the Isle of Anglesey visible to the northwest. The castle's massive scale has been reduced and the artist has transformed it into a vegetation-covered ruin - most likely as an allusion to the inevitable effects of time and the transience of worldly glory - moralising sentiments commonly associated with ruins in the 18th century. Wilson has also turned the River Seiont into a sea-inlet or small lake and moved Twt Hill closer to the castle on the right. Most noticeably, the bustling port of Caernarvon has been virtually eliminated.
London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (7); Washington 1985-86 (318); New York 2010 (2)
Sir Charles Tennant 1st Bart (1823-1906), The Glen, Innerleithen, Peebleshire, Scotland; his daughter, the Hon. Mrs Walter Elliot, later Baroness Elliot of Harwood, D.B.E. (d. 1997); acquired 1998 by the Detroit Institute of Arts
Unsigned, undated
Located on the banks of the River Seiont in northwest Wales, Caernarvon Castle was built in 1283-84 for King Edward I of England, following his conquest of Wales, and while under construction, was the birthplace of his son Edward, later to be given the title of Prince of Wales. It was the most magnificent of the four castles built by Edward I in North Wales and was intended by him to serve as the seat of government.
Related Prints
E27 William Byrne after Richard Wilson, Caernarvon Castle publ. Boydell, 1775 & other impressions
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Related Works by Other Artists
[1] Joseph Wright of Derby, Caernarvon Castle by Moonlight, c.1780-85, Manchester City Galleries (1905.7)
[2] William James Müller (1812-1845), Caernarfon Castle, North Wales, 1834. Christie's South Kensington, 14 November 2013 (147)
Critical commentary
This was the first of the artist's pictures of Caernarvon and the earliest of his identified Welsh landscapes. It has been noted by Francis Russell and others that it was not conceived as a topographically accurate record, unlike the later P12C, painted for James Brydges, Marquis of Caernarvon. Wilson's many liberties with the topographical facts of the area prefigure the observation of his pupil, Joseph Farington that 'Wilson when he painted views seldom adhered to the scene as it was.' These modifications have produced a tranquil view of a picturesque ruin in an idyllic rural setting, its form reflected in mirror-smooth water under a luminous sky. In the distance peasants go quietly about their labours while in the foreground, two well-dressed gentlemen, including an artist, engage in leisurely pursuits.
Pennant 1784, pp. 214-19; Farington Diary, vol. 9, 15 December 1808; WGC, p. 173; Solkin 1982, pp. 148-49; Wilton 1984, p. 57; Feigen 2010, unpaginated
The delicate palette and intricately elaborated surfaces are rococo in accent but the overall design is based on a compositional type evolved by Gaspard Dughet in the 17th century and often employed by Wilson's contemporaries, John Wootton and George Lambert.