RICHARD WILSON (1714-1782), English landscape painter, was born at Penegoes, Montgomeryshire, where his father was a clergyman, on 1st August 1714. His early taste for art was observed by a relative of his mother, Sir George Wynne, who in 1729 sent him to London to study under Thomas Wright, a little-known portrait painter of the time, by whom he was instructed for six years. He then started on his own account, and was soon in a good practice. Among his commissions was a full-length of the prince of Wales and the duke of York, painted for their tutor, the bishop of Norwich. Examples of his portraits may be studied in Greenwich Hospital, in the Garrick Club, and in various private collections. In 1749 Wilson visited Italy, where he spent six years. He had previously executed some landscapes, but it was now that the advice of Zuccarelli and Joseph Vernet decided him to adopt this department of art exclusively. He studied Claude and Poussin, but retained his own individuality, and produced some admirable views of Rome and the Campagna. In 1755 he returned to England, and became one of the first of English landscape painters. Niobe, one of his most powerful works, was exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1760. On the establishment of the Royal Academy in 1768 he was appointed one of the original members, and he was a regular contributor to its exhibitions till 1780. He frequently executed replicas of his more important subjects, repeating some of them several times; in the figures which he introduced in his landscapes he was occasionally assisted by Mortimer and Hayman. During his lifetime his landscapes were never widely popular; his temper was consequently embittered by neglect, and so impoverished was he that he was obliged to seclude himself in an obscure, half-furnished room in Tottenham Court Road, London. In 1776, however, he obtained the post of librarian to the Academy; and by the death of a brother he acquired a small property near Llanferras, Denbighshire, to which he retired to spend his last days, and where he died suddenly in May 1782. After his death his fame increased, and in 1814 about seventy of his works were exhibited in the British Institution. The National Gallery, London, contains nine of his landscapes.
The works of Wilson are skilled and learned compositions rather than direct transcripts from nature. His landscapes are treated with great breadth, and with a power of generalization which occasionally led to a disregard of detail. They are full of classical feeling and poetic sentiment; they possess noble qualities of colour, and of delicate silvern tone; and their handling is vigorous and easy, the work of a painter who was thoroughly master of his materials.
See Studies and Designs by Richard Wilson, done at Rome in the year 1753 (Oxford, 1811); T. Wright, Some Account of the Life of Richard Wilson (London, 1824); Thomas Hastings, Etchings from the Works of Richard Wilson, with some Memoirs of his Life (London, 1825). Many of Wilson's best works were reproduced by Woollett and other engravers of the time.