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Summary Article: Wilson, Richard
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Welsh painter. His landscapes, infused with an Italianate atmosphere, are painted in a classical manner reminiscent of Claude Lorrain. His work influenced the development of English landscape painting, and J M W Turner in particular.

He was born in Penegoes, Montgomeryshire. His father gave him a classical education and he studied art in London in 1729 under an obscure portrait painter, Thomas Wright. Until 1750 he practised portraiture with some success, painting the Prince of Wales (George III) and his brother, the Duke of York (National Portrait Gallery, London), as well as Flora Macdonald (National Gallery of Scotland).

He also painted some landscapes before going to Italy in 1750, where he was encouraged to devote himself to this genre. He worked in Rome and Naples, having several pupils, and producing a type of ‘classical landscape’ derived in part from Claude Lorrain and Gaspard Poussin (1615–1675) but also from Aelbert Cuyp, whose golden light Wilson greatly admired; his convention for painting foliage seems to have been based on Jacob Ruisdael. His originality, however, lay in a structural simplicity of design, breadth of treatment, and luminous atmosphere directly studied in nature.

It is possible that this departure from the artificialities then in vogue accounts for his lack of success when he returned to England in 1756. His work was uneven in quality and his attempts to introducing mythology, as in The Destruction of the Children of Niobe (1760; Yale Center for British Art), were often unsuccessful. Yet he created masterpieces, among them The River Dee (Barber Institute, Birmingham), Cader Idris (National Gallery, London), and Snowdon from Llyn Nantlle (versions in Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and Castle Museum, Nottingham).

He retired shortly before his death to live near Llanberis. His achievement was only fully appreciated by the following generation.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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