Richard Wilson RA, Self-portrait of Richard Wilson, R.A.

Self-portrait of Richard Wilson, R.A., ?1760s or 1770s

Attributed to Richard Wilson RA (1713 - 1782)

RA Collection: Art

This self-portrait shows Wilson during the height of his career in England. He had returned from Italy in 1757 after spending seven years there training and practising as a landscape artist. During this time, he developed a classical style heavily influenced by artists such as the French Baroque landscapist Claude Lorrain (c.1600-1682). However, Wilson’s works were not so classicised as Claude’s; he also incorporated more naturalistic landscape elements based on the 17th-century Dutch tradition.

On his return to London, Wilson established a studio in Covent Garden and began to exhibit landscape paintings, a genre that was unfashionable in Britain at the time. Wilson was instrumental in changing the artistic tastes of 18th-century, establishing landscape as a cornerstone of British painting. His importance in this field means that he is sometimes referred to as ‘the Father of British Landscapes’. As a Founding Member of the Royal Academy, his work had a significant impact on contemporaries such as Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and later artists like John Constable (1776-1837).

As this painting shows, Wilson was also an accomplished portraitist. As a young man, he had trained as a portrait painter. This was deemed a reasonable way to earn a living in the mid-18th century, gaining commissions from wealthy London patrons.

Wilson’s appearance and the objects surrounding him indicate his position as an important artist of the era. By the late 18th century, the artistic profession had become associated with high status and intellect, with artists’ societies flourishing alongside other learned societies of Georgian England. The palette Wilson holds bears the initials ‘RW’, emphasising his authorship of the work, and his decorative clothes exhibit a richness that give him an aristocratic air. The intriguing turban-like headdress was a comfortable alternative to the wigs that were often worn by men in the 18th century. This cloth head-covering would be less distracting for a painter at work, and Wilson has been depicted numerous times wearing such a garment.

Object details

Self-portrait of Richard Wilson, R.A.
Attributed to Richard Wilson RA (1713 - 1782)
?1760s or 1770s
Object type
Oil on canvas

622 mm x 552 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from Mr Steevens in 1813

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