John Barrell reviews the exhibition Richard Wilson (1714 – 1782) and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, on view through October 26, 2014.
Barrell writes: "Wilson was as exciting a painter of landscapes as his near contemporary Gainsborough, as influential on Constable as Gainsborough was, and the most important British predecessor of Turner… Wilson, the argument seems to be, attracted to his studio in Rome a number of artists of various nationalities whom he taught partly by setting them to copy his own landscape drawings, but also, crucially, by leading groups of them into the landscapes round Rome to draw directly from nature. He taught them, in short, what he had himself apparently learned about landscape while in Rome: to turn away from painting ‘invented compositions’ of the kind preferred by Lorrain and Gaspard Dughet, in favour of views of real places. ‘He studied the places around Rome from which they had drawn inspiration, and realised that he could remain true to a specific location, rather than seeking to create an ideal that did not exist in nature.’ He painted – though the evidence for this does not seem to me very strong – plein-air oil sketches, recording the colour and tone, even the atmospheric conditions, of particular landscapes as drawings could not do. It was this discovery, of the value of drawing and painting directly from the motif, that enabled Wilson to accomplish the transformation of European landscape painting."