A new exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art will celebrate a Welsh painter’s role in the shaping of an artistic genre.
The exhibit, “Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting,” will open on Thursday and feature paintings and drawings by artist Richard Wilson, often considered the father of British landscape painting, as well as works by his predecessors, contemporaries and pupils. Honorary Professor of English at University College London and Editor of “The British Art Journal” Robin Simon, who curated the exhibit along with Deputy Director of Studies at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London Martin Postle, explained that Wilson revolutionized landscape painting largely by depicting scenes as they were rather than as they might have been if perfected by the imagination.
Simon curated the exhibit along with Deputy Director of Studies at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London Martin Postle.
Scott Wilcox, the exhibit’s organizing curator at the Center as well as the YCBA’s chief curator of art collections and senior curator of Prints and Drawings, described the show as “a major loan exhibition,” explaining that many of the pieces on display come from the National Museum of Wales.
“Before Wilson, landscapes had to be idealized,” Simon said, explaining that Wilson painted “true to nature, leading to the great Romantic era of landscape painting.”
The exhibit focuses on the seven years Wilson spent in Rome, during which time his work transitioned from portraiture to landscape. Wilson, only a “dabbler” in painting upon arrival, became a master of landscape painting in a mere two years in Italy due to his immersion in Rome’s artistic moment, Simon explained.
During Wilson’s time abroad, the Welsh artist learned from masters such as French painter Claude-Joseph Vernet and Italian painter Francesco Zuccarelli, Postle explained, adding that meeting Vernet was a turning point in Wilson’s career and thus also in the trajectory of European art.
A portrait of Zuccarelli that Wilson painted in exchange for one of the Italian artist’s landscapes hangs in one of the gallery’s first bays.
Wilson honed his style at the L’Académie de France in the center of Rome, where the Welshman — formerly an “idle intellectual” — became a serious artist, Simon explained.
“[At the L’Académie de France,] Wilson’s drawing style changes from tentative outlines on white paper to rich, dense, tonal drawing on tinted paper,” he said, adding that Wilson’s mastery of tone and aerial perspective make his work exceptional.
Wilcox said Simon and Postle have been conducting research for the exhibit for approximately seven years, and the Center has been involved for the past four. Tomorrow the YCBA’s website will launch interactive maps of Italy and Wales showing the locations where Wilson painted the scenes featured in the exhibit. The maps will display images of Wilson’s paintings as well as photos the curators have taken on site, Wilcox said.
“[Wilson’s work] has a sense of the sublime as well as of the beautiful,” Simon said, adding that Wilson’s work impacted the aesthetic not only of European artists but also of travelers during the time period.
The show has been co-organized by the Center and the Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales, and will travel to the National Museum Cardiff in Wales in July.
The student guide-curated exhibit at the Center this year will relate to the Wilson show, Wilcox explained. That exhibition, which opens in April, focuses on Welsh art and will be the museum’s first exhibition to be dedicated entirely to Wales. He explained that though Wilson was Welsh, the artist’s work belongs to the history of European and British painting and is not exclusively about Wales. The museum presented its last Wilson exhibit in 1982.
“Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting” will remain on view through June 1.