Richard Wilson

Ponte Nomentana


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Richard Wilson 1713–1782
Chalk on paper
Support: 287 × 422 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

This is one of twenty ‘views of the environs of Rome’ commissioned from Wilson by William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth. The commission was negotiated by Wilson's friend Thomas Jenkins, who acted as an agent acquiring artworks for British Grand Tourists. Wilson also made two paintings of Roman subjects for Dartmouth, one of which is in the Tate Collection. The Ponte Nomentana, about two miles north-east of Rome, carried the old Roman Via Nomentana across the River Anio to the town of Mentana.

Gallery label, April 2007

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed in black crayon on lower border ‘R. Wilson f.1754.’ left and ‘No 20’ right, and, in brown ink on white label stuck in centre of the lower border, ‘Ponte Nomentano’, the last letter having been altered from ‘a’ to ‘o’ (see below); also numbered ‘32’ on the verso of the original mount
Black crayon and white chalk on blue paper, 11 5/16 × 16 5/8 (28.5 × 42.2), mounted on larger white paper to whose edges four strips of thinner paper, painted with lilac wash, have been stuck to form a border; overall size 14 × 19 5/16 (35.5 × 49.1)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: One of a series of twenty ‘views of the environs of Rome’ commissioned by William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth (1731–1801); by descent to the 7th Earl of Dartmouth, by whom sold Christie's 29 January 1954 (22), bt. Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd., by whom sold to F. B. Hart-Jackson, 1960, bought back from him, 1977, and sold to the Tate Gallery 1980.
Exh: Richard Wilson and his Circle, City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, 1948–9 (89) and Tate Gallery, 1949 (88); Il Settecento a Roma, British Council, Rome, 1959 (669); 105th Annual Exhibition of Watercolours and Drawings, Agnew's, 1978 (15, repr. pl.l), unsold; 107th Annual Exhibition of Watercolours and Drawings, Agnew's 1980 (27).
Lit: Brinsley Ford, ‘The Dartmouth Collection of Drawings by Richard Wilson’, Burlington Magazine, XC, 1948, pp.337–345; Brinsley Ford, The Drawings of Richard Wilson, 1951, p.61, no.62, repr. pl.62; W. G. Constable, Richard Wilson, 1953, p.98.

This is ‘No 20’ in a series of twenty ‘views of the environs of Rome’, commissioned from Wilson, with other drawings, by the 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, and completed in Rome in 1754. As Brinsley Ford (1978, loc. cit.) has shown, the commission was negotiated by Wilson's friend Thomas Jenkins, who acted as ‘agent in acquiring works of art for rich English cavalieri who passed through Rome’. On 1 June 1754 Jenkins reported from Rome to Lord Dartmouth, who by then was back in England: ‘Mr Wilson desires him to say that in this summer he will have finished twenty drawings, views of the environs of Rome, which the writer will send with some of his own drawings...’. On 25 June 1754 Jenkins sent accounts of sums expended on Lord Dartmouth's behalf, including payments ‘to Mr Wilson for twelve drawings views of Rome at three zechins each’ (Mr Ford estimates the ‘zecchino’ at that time to have been worth about half a guinea). Jenkins's letter of 30 March 1755 to Lord Dartmouth refers to the despatch of two groups of drawings by Wilson: ‘a portfolio with 30 of Mr Wilson's drawings’ was included in a case shipped to England on 28 February 1755, and ‘other drawings of Messrs. Pompeo Wilson and myself’ were sent ‘by the French courier’.

‘The drawings made by Wilson at Rome for Lord Dartmouth’ are reverently mentioned several times between 1801 and 1811 by Joseph Farington, Wilson's former pupil (relevant passages from his Diary are quoted in Ford, 1948, pp.337–9). Farington considered them ‘so excellent that it may be justly said they have all the quality of his pictures except the colour’; he also noted that they were much admired by such contemporaries as Hoppner, Sir George Beaumont, Sir Charles Long and William Lock of Norbury. When Farington counted the drawings in 1806, he noted a total of sixty-eight, which presumably included all the twenty ‘views of the environs of Rome’ and forty-eight other subjects; this total of sixty-eight is supported, Brinsley Ford suggests, by the numbers, ranging from twenty-three to sixty-one, on the verso of the mounts of those drawings which have survived. Farington last mentions the drawings in 1811, after which they were apparently lost sight of for well over a century. One portfolio containing twenty-five drawings was rediscovered in 1948 in a cupboard a Patshull House, Wolverhampton, the Dartmouth seat. These twenty-five drawings (listed by Ford, p.345) include nineteen of the original twenty ‘views of the environs of Rome’ (‘No1’ is missing), three separate views, two designs for fountains and one dramatic landscape with figures.

All the twenty-five rediscovered drawings were sold at Christie's by the 7th Earl of Dartmouth in 1954. The present locations of the other eighteen surviving drawings in the ‘environs of Rome’ series may be thus summarised: four British provincial galleries each own one (Cecil Higgins Museum, Bedford; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Castle Museum, Norwich; Aberdeen City Art Gallery). There are seven in American public collections (two in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection; two in the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino; two in the Rhode Island School of Design; and one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The remaining seven, so far as is known, are in British or American private collections, two of the finest being in the Loyd Collection.

The Ponte Nomentana, about two miles outside Rome to the north-east, had for centuries carried the old Roman Via Nomentana across the River Anio to the town of Mentana (formerly Nomentum); the bridge shown in T03026 was rebuilt in mediaeval times. The Alban Hills are seen in the background on the right.

The carefully thought-out composition of T03026, as of all the surviving Roman views, makes it likely that it was made in the studio; the views may have been based on preliminary drawings made on the spot, but no such studies survive. All the ‘environs of Rome’ drawings were originally bordered, in the same manner as T03026, with strips of paper washed with purplish lilac; this was presumably done by Wilson himself, or by an assistant working under his directions. Each drawing was then evidently overmounted to show only about half the width of the lilac border. Since lilac is a particularly fugitive colour, the exposed part of the borders faded drastically, probably within a short time of having been painted, despite the fact that the drawings were apparently preserved at some time or other in an album (Ford, 1948, p.341, note 17). The unexposed part of the border retains the deep colour which may still be seen beneath the new mount of T03026.

The inscription on the label on the border of T03026 now reads ‘Ponte Nomentano’, the last letter evidently having been altered, by a later and rather heavier hand, from the (?surely correct) spelling ‘Nomentana’, which remains unaltered on the label of the drawing ‘Via Nomentana’, ‘No. 18’ in the ‘environs of Rome’ series (now in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection). Altering the final ‘a’ to ‘o’ may have been done in the later nineteenth century when ‘Ponte Nomentano’ was apparently the form chiefly used in England (e.g. by Augustus J.C. Hare, Walks in Rome, 13th ed., 1893, and K. Baedeker, Central Italy and Rome, 13th ed., 1900).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981

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