Richard Wilson

views updated May 14 2018

Richard Wilson

The British painter Richard Wilson (1713/1714-1782) raised English landscape painting to new heights by uniting its topographical traditions with those of the great 17th-century landscape masters on the Continent.

The third son of the rector of Penygoes in Montgomeryshire, Wales, Richard Wilson received an excellent grounding in classical literature from his father. In 1729 Richard went to London "to indulge his prevailing love for the arts of design," and there he trained under an obscure portrait painter, Thomas Wright. Family connections with the aristocracy helped Wilson to get portrait commissions, including one from the royal family, but his reputation among artists was chiefly for topographical landscapes imbued with a strong feeling for open-air naturalism. In 1746 he painted the Founding Hospital and St. George's Hospital for the Founding Hospital.

In 1750 Wilson went to Venice and about a year later to Rome, where Salvator Rosa was his chief model for dramatic landscapes with storms, shipwrecks, and bandits. For six years Wilson made an intensive study of the Italian landscape, especially scenes with classical associations, working up his open-air sketches into studio pictures, strongly influenced in his handling of light and air by the Dutch masters and in his composition by Gaspard Dughet, Nicolas Poussin, and Claude Lorrain.

After his return to England in 1756 or 1757, Wilson took an apartment in the Great Piazza in Covent Garden, where he also had a studio for his pupils. He made his chief bid for fame with a number of versions of the Destruction of the Daughters of Niobe, one of which was exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1760. The verdict of Sir Joshua Reynolds was unfavorable, but in any case the taste of the aristocracy was not for heroic essays in the sublime, corresponding to the theories of Edmund Burke, but for pictures of their country houses elevated by the style of Claude Lorrain and for Italian scenes that reminded them of their grand tours.

Between 1765 and 1769 Wilson gave up his apartment in Covent Garden. Elected a foundation member of the Royal Academy in 1768, he established a practice both substantial and lucrative, but sporadic ill health, generosity, touchiness, and the unremunerative proportion of his time devoted to uncommissioned heroic landscapes all contributed to the decline of his fortune. His appointment as librarian to the Royal Academy in 1776 was largely a charitable gesture.

Wilson frequently visited his beloved Wales, and he retired there in 1781. He died in Colomendy, Denbigshire, the following year. His Welsh landscapes, such as Snowdon (ca. 1766) and Cader Idris (ca. 1774), and views of the English countryside are highly original paintings which announce the romantic exaltation of nature and solitude.

Further Reading

The standard authority for Wilson's life and work is W. G. Constable, Richard Wilson (1953), which contains nearly 400 illustrations. An excellent appreciation of Wilson is in Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1530-1790 (1953; 2d ed. 1962). □

Wilson, Richard (1926-)

views updated Jun 27 2018

Wilson, Richard (1926-)

Physics professor who was active in the field of parapsychology. He was born on April 29, 1926, in London, England. He studied at Oxford University (M.S., Ph.D.). He began his teaching career as a research lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford (1948-53). He spent two years in the United States before returning to Oxford for two years (1953-55), and then moved to the United States as a professor at Harvard University.

A corresponding member of the Society for Psychical Research, London, Wilson devised a random number selector for extrasensory perception.


Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press, 1964.

Wilson, Richard. "A Random Number Selector." Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research 48 (1946-49).

Wilson, Richard

views updated May 23 2018

Wilson, Richard (1714–82). Landscape painter. Born in Wales, the son of a clergyman, Wilson's formal training and early career were in portrait painting, but, while in Italy between 1750 and 1756, he decided to concentrate on painting landscape in the classical style. On his return to England, his pictures brought him fame but little employment. He was a founder member of the Royal Academy and appointed librarian in 1776, by which time he had almost ceased to paint. An abrasive character, Wilson was often critical of his contemporaries. He referred to Gainsborough's ‘fried parsley’ landscapes and while serving on the hanging committee of the RA would wash over brightly coloured paintings to reduce them to his more restrained tones. He is now regarded as the first great British landscapist and an important influence on 19th-cent. landscape painting.

June Cochrane

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