William Gilpin (1724 - 1804)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

English writer, printmaker, Clergyman and Schoolmaster, best known as one of the originators of the idea of the picturesque.

Based in Surrey (1753-77) and Hampshire (1777- 1804). Brother of animal-painter Sawrey Gilpin RA (1733-1807); uncle of landscape watercolorist and garden designer William Sawrey Gilpin (1762-1843).

In 1768 Gilpin published his popular Essay on Prints where he defined the picturesque as “that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture” and began to expound his “principles of picturesque beauty”, based largely on his knowledge of landscape painting. During the late 1760s and 1770s Gilpin travelled extensively in the summer holidays and applied these principles to the landscapes he saw, committing his thoughts and spontaneous sketches to notebooks. Gilpin’s tour journals circulated in manuscript to friends, such as the poet William Mason, and a wider circle including Thomas Gray, Horace Walpole and King George III. In 1782, at the instigation of Mason, Gilpin published Observations on the River Wye and several parts of South Wales, etc. relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the summer of the year 1770 (London 1782). This was illustrated with plates based on Gilpin’s sketches, etched by his nephew William Sawrey Gilpin using the new aquatint process. There followed Observations on the Lake District and the West of England and Remarks on Forest Scenery, and other woodland Views … (London 1791).


Born: 4 June 1724 in Cumberland

Died: 5 April 1804

Gender: Male

Works by William Gilpin in the RA Collection

25 results

Associated books

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