Wilson, Richard

, a very distinguished artist of the last century, was born in 1714, and was the son of the rector of Pineges, in Montgomeryshire, who was afterwards collated to the living of Mould in Flintshire. Edwards says, that “his connections were highly respectable, being maternally related to the late lord chancellor Camden, who was pleased to acknowledge him as his cousin.” His father gave him a good education, and as he early discovered a taste for painting, sent him to London, and placed him under the tuition of one Thomas Wright, a portrait-painter of very slender abilities. Wilson, therefore, began his career as a portrait-painter but with a mediocrity that afforded no luminous hopes of excellence; yet he must have acquired some rank in his profession, for we find, that in 1749, he painted a large picture of his present majesty, and of his brother the late duke of York. After having practised some years at London, he went to Italy, and continued the study of portrait-painting, until a small landscape of his, executed with a considerable share of freedom and spirit, casually meeting the eye of Zuccarelli, so pleased the Italian, that he strenuously advised him to follow that mode of painting, as most congenial to his powers, and therefore most likely to obtain for him fame as well as profit.

This flattering encomium from an artist of Zuccarelli’s knowledge and established reputation, produced such an | influence on Wilson, as to determine him at once to turn from portrait to landscape, which he pursued with vigour and success. To this fortunate accident is owing the splendour diffused by his genius over this country, and even over Italy itself, whose scenes have been the frequent subjects of his pencil. His studies, indeed, in this branch of the art, must have been attended with rapid success, for he had some pupils in landscape while at Rome, and his works were so much esteemed thatMengs painted his portrait, for which Wilson, in return, painted a landscape.

It is not known at what time he returned to England, but he was in London in 1758, and resided over the north arcade of the piazza, Covent-garden, at whjch time he had gained great celebrity as a landscape-painter. To the first exhibition of 1760, he sent his picture of Niobe, which is now in the possession of his royal highness the duke of Gloucester. Sir Joshua Reynolds, in his last lecture but one, has offered some strictures on the figures introduced in this celebrated picture, in which Mr. Fuseli seems to agree, but which Edwards labours to oppose; and even to trace sir Joshua’s opinion to private pique. In 1765, Wilson exhibited, with other pictures, a view of Rome, from the villa Madama, a capital performance, which was purchased by the late marquis of Tavistock, and is probably in the collection of the duke of Bedford. When the Royal Academy was instituted, he was chosen one of the founders, and, after the death of Hayman, was made librarian; an office which his necessities rendered desirable, and which he retained until his decayed health compelled him to retire to his brother’s in Wales, where he died in May 1782. Mr. Opie says, in his “Lectures,” that Wilson, though second to no name of any school or country in classical and heroic landscape, succeeded with difficulty, by pawning some of his works at the age of seventy (sixty-seven or sixty-height), in procuring ten guineas to carry him to die in unhonoured and unnoticed obscurity in Wales.“Edwards informs us, that” though be had acquired great fame, yet he did not find that constant employment which his abilities deserved. This neglect might probably result from his own conduct; for it must be confessed, that Mr. Wilson was not very prudentially attentive to his interest; and though a man of strong sense, and superior education to most of the artists of his time, he certainly did not possess that suavity of manners which | distinguished many of his contemporaries. On this account, his connexions and employment insensibly diminished, and left him, in the latter part of his life, in comfortless infirmity.“This appears to us but a sorry excuse for the neglect Wilson met with for what has patronage to do with the temper of anartist Wilson’s taste was so exquisite, says Fuseli, and his eye so chaste, that whatever came from his easel bore the stamp of elegance and truth. The subjects he chose were such as did credit to his judgment. They were the selections of taste; and whether of the simple, the elegant, or the sublime, ^they were treated with an equal felicity. Indeed, he possessed that versatility of power, as to be one minute an eagle sweeping the heavens, and the next, a wren twittering a simple note on the humble thorn. His colouring was in general vivid and natural; his touch, spirited and free; his composition, simple and elegant; his lights and shadows, broad and well distributed; his middle tints in perfect harmony, while his forms in general produced a pleasing impression. Wilson has been called the English Claude; a comparison which Mr. Fuseli cannot admit, from the total dissimilarity of their style.” Claude,“he adds,” little above mediocrity in all other branches of landscape-painting, had one great prerogative, sublimity; but his powers rose and set with the sun, he could only be serenely sublime or romantic. Wilson, without so great a feature, had a more varied and more proportionate power: he observed nature in all her appearances, and had a characteristic touch for all her forms. But though in effects of dewy freshness and silent evening lights few equalled, and fewer excelled him, his grandeur is oftener allied to terror, bustle, and convulsion, than to calmness and tranquillity. Figures, it is difficult to say, which of the two introduced or handled with greater infelicity: treated by Claude or Wilson, St. Ursula with her Virgins, and yneas Landing, Niobe with her family, or Ceyx drawn on the shore, have an equal claim to our indifference or mirth." 1

1 Edwards’s Anecdotes of Painter'. Pilkington by Fuseli.