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Richard Wilson RA, 1713/4–1782, British, active in Italy (1750–56)

Dinas Bran from Llangollen

Former Title(s):

View in Wales

Dinas Bran from Llangollen [1985, Cormack, YCBA Concise Catalogue]

A View Near Wynnstay with Dinas Bran in the Distance

Dinas Bran near Llangollan 1770

View of Llangollen

Castell Dinas Bran

Ditto of Crow Castle, near Llangollen in Denbighshire. [1771, Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhibition catalogue]

1770 to 1771
Oil on canvas
Support (PTG): 71 × 96 3/8 inches (180.3 × 244.8 cm)

Label on verso, center: “Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd. | [logo] No 34222 | [...] | London, | 43, Old Bond Street. | Piccadilly, W.”; upper center: “[...] | Royal Academy Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters, [...] | Name of Artist Wilson | Title of Work The V[...] of Llangollen | Name and Address of P[...] | Sir Watkin Williams Wynn [...] | [...]”

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
axe | bridge (built work) | bucket | castle | costume | country house | family | fort | fortress | hills | laborers | landscape | laundering | men | river | ruins | sheep | tools | valley | village | Welsh | woman
Associated Places:
Castell Dinas Brân | Chirk | Cymru | Dee | Denbighshire | United Kingdom | Wales
On view
IIIF Manifest:

Painted at the height of Richard Wilson’s career as a landscape painter, just before his precipitous decline into ill health and poverty, this view in Wales is one of a pair (its companion piece is shown opposite) that hung in the London home of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn. WilliamsWynn was one of the richest men in Britain, and this would have been perhaps the most prestigious commission of Wilson’s life. As Welshmen, both Wilson and his patron would have found special nationalistic significance in the depiction of the ancient Welsh fortress of Dinas Bran.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

This painting, together with View near Wynnstay (B1976.7.84) was commissioned to celebrate Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn’s (1749-1789) coming of age in 1769. The young baronet paid Wilson £50 on account for both pictures in February 1770, and soon afterward they hung prominently in his grand new London house, 20 St. James’s Square, built by Robert Adam between 1771 and 1774. The prospect is downstream along the river Dee toward Llangollen village with its fourteenth-century bridge at the right, overshadowed on the left by the hilltop fortress, Dinas Brân (Crow Castle), whose imposing position has been exaggerated by Wilson. The church tower is that of St. Collen, reconstructed in 1749. Much of the surrounding territory belonged to Sir Watkin who was the paramount landlord of Denbighshire and one of the richest men in Britain; he was also distantly related to Wilson. Dinas Brân, an ancient royal Welsh fortress, had belonged in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to a line of princes who were also lords of Bromfield and Yale (Iâl), but passed to the English crown after the death of Gruffudd ap Madoc in 1269. In Wilson’s time it was owned by the Myddelton family, political rivals of Sir Watkin, whose seat was nearby Chirk Castle.

Gallery label for Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting (Yale Center for British Art, 2014-03-06 - 2014-06-01)

By the eighteenth century, the ruins of the Welsh fortress of Dinas Bran, which sit on a steep, conical hill of slate in the valley of the river Dee, formed part of the estate of the Myddelton family of nearby Chirk Castle. But the ancient fortress predated the English subjugation of Wales in the thirteenth century, and the ruggedness of this wild place conformed to what was then imagined about the Celtic spirit of the mystical west of Britain. Wilson in fact enlarged the hill, causing it to loom majestically over the small town of Llangollen, while figures in the landscape (several of which are direct "quotations" from Raphael) allude to the harmonious interdependence of the squire, his tenants, and rural laborers.

This splendid view is one of a pair commissioned for his London house by the wealthy baronet Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, who was, like the artist himself, proudly Welsh. Wynnstay, Sir Watkin's country house, was on the other side of the hill, further up the valley. The pendant view, looking back at the same hill from the more distant Wynnstay estate, hangs at the other end of this room. Sir Watkin took great pride in his ancestral link to the early kings of Wales.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005
Dinas Bran is an ancient fortress that occupies the top of a steeply conical hill of slate in the valley of the river Dee in Wales, on the estate of the Myddelton family of nearby Chirk Castle. The origins of the name Dinas Bran are obscure, but it has commonly been anglicized as "Crow Castle." The present view is looking up the valley from the east, showing the hill higher than it actually is, looming majestically over the small town of Llangollen with its fourteenth-century bridge. Wilson carefully places some trees in the right foreground as a pictorial counterweight to the hill and composes his scene generally to suggest a world of easy balance and harmony, both within nature and between nature and man. The landscape is not just a pleasure to the eye, but productive: sheep graze in the middle distance; some fishermen draw in a net on the river; a family breaks off firewood from a dead tree. In the foreground the figure of the man swinging an axe introduces an heroic note, perhaps even a hint of the medieval combats we might romantically imagine to have taken place at Dinas Bran.

The work is the complementary pair to a view along the valley from the other direction, looking down from a hilltop, with the distinctive form of Dinas Bran in the far distance (also at the Yale Center for British Art). Both were commissioned from Wilson by a fellow Welshman, the young Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Bart., one of the richest men in Britain. Sir Watkin made his Grand Tour in 1768-69 and probably gave Wilson the commission just after coming of age in 1769. He would also employ Joshua Reynolds to paint family portraits and Paul Sandby to accompany him on a sketching tour of north Wales, and indeed was one of the most generous British patrons and collectors of the 1770s and 1780s. The countryside shown in the Wilsons was part of his homeland, and the more distant view of Dinas Bran is taken from a point on his family estate of Wynnstay. The pair was later recorded as hanging at Sir Watkin's London residence, 20 St. James's Square, which was built for him by Robert Adam in 1771-74, and in all likelihood this was the purpose for which they were painted; they served as proud reminders for Sir Watkin when he was in town, as well as for his visitors, of his place in the country and his Welsh origins. He was to make Welshness a key part of his persona and cherished the idea-which may or may not have had any real genealogical basis-that he was descended from Rhodri Mawr, a king of Wales in the ninth century. He was also involved in societies for the revival and promotion of Celtic traditions. The wild, rugged appearance of Dinas Bran perfectly suited current ideas of the Celtic spirit. All important, it dated from before the English subjugation of Wales in the later thirteenth century. There seems little doubt that, for patron and painter alike, it stood not merely as a local landmark, but as a symbol of national identity.

Malcolm Warner

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 78, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Malcolm Andrews, The Search for the Picturesque, Landscape aesthetics and Tourism in Britain, 1760-1800 , Scolar Press, Aldershot, England, 1989, pp. 114-15, fig. 29, BH301 L3 A53 (YCBA)

Art Exhibitions, English Landscapes , The Times (London), London, Friday, November 19, 1926, p. 12, Available online : Times Digital Archive Also available on Microfilm : An T482 (SML)

Art Treasures Exhibition (Manchester, England), Catalogue of the art treasures of the United kingdom., Bradbury and Evans, London, 1857, pp. 83-84, no. 151 or 162, N5056 M35 M25 1857 (YCBA)

Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester Times, Manchester, Saturday, June 6, 1857, p. 7, Online Resource Available online at 19th Century British Library Newspapers

Emma Barker, Art & visual culture, 1600-1850 : academy to avant-garde, , Tate Publishing, London, 2012, pp.274, 276, pl. 7.15, N6756 .A78 2012 (YCBA)

David Bindman, The History of British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2008, pp. 39-40(v.2), fig. 12, N6761 +H57 2008 Oversize (YCBA)

British Art at Yale, Apollo, v.105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 286-8, fig. 1, N5220 M552 A7 1977 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Published as April 1977 issue of Apollo; all of the articles may also be found in bound Apollo Volume [N1 A54 105:2 +]

Frederick Burwick, The Romantic imagination, literature and art in England and Germany , Rodopi, Amsterdam, Atlanta. GA, 1996, p. 226, fig. 81, NX543 R65 1996 (YCBA)

Jill H. Casid, Sowing empire, landscape and colonization , University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2005, p. 180, SB121 C27 2005 (YCBA)

Catalogue of pictures by Richard Wilson and his circle, November 17-January 9 1948-9 , City Museum & Art Gallery Birmingham, Birmingham, 1948, p. 21, no. 64, V 2449 (YCBA)

Catalogue of an exhibition of pictures by Richard Wilson and his circle : organized by the City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, January, 1949, The Tate Gallery, London, , Tate Britain, London, 1949, p. 24, no. 63, NJ18 W72 T37 (YCBA)

Catalogue of the art treasures of the United Kingdom : collected at Manchester in 1857., Bradbury and Evans, London, p. 79, no. 38, Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.2.216 (SML and available online: HathiTrust)

W. G. Constable, Richard Wilson, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1953, pp. 175-76, no. 36, pl. 26a, NJ18 W72 C55 (YCBA)

W. G. Constable, Richard Wilson, some pentimenti , Burlington Magazine, vol. 614, May 1954, p. 140, N1 B87 96 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Malcolm Cormack, A Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 252, 253, N590.2 A83 (YCBA)

Malcolm Cormack, A Selective Promenade, Apollo, v.105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 286-8, fig. 1, N1 A54 + (YCBA) Another copy of this article may be found in a separately bound and catalogued copy of this issue located on the Mellon Shelf [call number : N5220 M552 A7 1977 + (YCBA)]

Stephen Daniels, Paul Sandby, picturing Britain , Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2009, fig. 50, NJ18 Sa56 P3 2009 + OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Brinsley Ford, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, A Welsh Maecenas , Apollo, vol. 99, June 1974, p. 438, N1 A54 99:2 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Brinsley Ford, The Drawings of Richard Wilson, Faber & Faber, London, 1951, pp. 38, 63, NJ18 W72 F6 1951 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Brinsley Ford, The Richard Wilson Exhibition at Birmingham, Burlington Magazine, vol. 90 no. 548, November 1948, p. 326, N1 B87 90 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

E. H. Gombrich, Visual Discovery through Art, Arts Magazine, November 1965, pp. 17-28, N1 A415 OVERSIZE (HAAS)

Catherine M. Gordon, British paintings Hogarth to Turner, Frederick Warne, London, 1981, p. 76, ND466 G67 (YCBA)

Luke Herrmann, [ Exhibition Reviews ] Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting, YCBA, New Haven, 6 March - 1 June National Museum Wales / Amueddfa Cymru, Cardiff 5 July - 26 October , British Art Journal, Vol. 15, Autumn 2014, p. 121, N6761 B74 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Horsfall Turner, Olivia., Nobleness & grandeur, forging historical landscape in Britain 1760-1850. , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2005, p. 13, no. 23, V 1420 (YCBA)

John Cassell's Art treasures exhibition, containing engravings of the principal masterpieces of the English, Dutch, Flemish, French and German schools, with biographical sketches of the painters, and critical notices of their productions , W. Kent and Co., London, 1858, p. 110, N5056 .M36 C3 1858 (YCBA RARE BOOKS) Also available at SML Fiche B1244 Fiche N.4.2.215 and online at books.google.com

William Laffan, Thomas Roberts, landscape and patronage in eighteenth-century Ireland. , Churchill House Press, Tralee, 2009, pp. 250-1, fig. 203, NJ18.R544 L35 2009 + (YCBA)

Peter Lord, Gwenllian, essays on visual culture , Gomer Press, Llandysul, Dyfed, 1994, p. 43, N6792 L67 1994 (YCBA)

Peter Lord, Imaging the nation, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2000, pp. 116-123, fig. 185, N6792 L675 2000 (YCBA)

Peter Lord, The tradition : a new history of Welsh art, 1400-1990, Parthian, Cardigan, 2016, pp. 104-05, fig. 108, N6792 .L678 2016 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 16, 78, no. 26, fig. 15, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

Elizabeth A. Pergam, The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, entrepreneurs, connoisseurs and the public , Ashgate Publishing, Surrey, UK, England Burlington, VT, 2011, p. 312, No. 151 in AT Ex, N5056 M35 P47 2011 (YCBA)

Martin Postle, Richard Wilson and the transformation of European landscape painting, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2014, p. 113, 138-39, 165-66, 186, 199-200, 266-67, Cat. No. 81, NJ18.W72 R53 2014 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Ron Radford, Island to empire : 300 years of British art, 1550-1850 : paintings, watercolours, drawings, sculptures from the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2005, pp. 144, 146, N3913.5 .R34 2005 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA)

Michael Rosenthal, The art of Thomas Gainsborough, "a little business for the eye" , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1999, p. 204, pl. 201, NJ18 G16 R67 1999 (YCBA)

Royal Academy of Arts, Exhibition Catalogue. 1771. 3d, Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, no. 3, London, 1771, p. 21, no. 222, N5054 A53 (YCBA)

Robin Simon, Royal Academy of Arts: History and Collections, New Haven, p. 80, fig. 65, N1100 A869 2018 (LC) Oversize (YCBA)

David H. Solkin, Exhibition Catalogue Review, Pantheon, vol. 41, Jan-March 1983, pp. 70-71, N3 P3 OVERSIZE (HAAS)

David H. Solkin, Exhibition Catalogue Review, Journal of Garden History, vol. 3, July-Sept. 1983, pp. 249-51, SB451 J68 (SML & HAAS)

David H. Solkin, Richard Wilson, the landscape of reaction, Tate Publishing, London, 1982, pp. 120, 130-31, 237, 238, no. 133, col. pl. XVI\; no. 133, NJ18 W72 S65 + (YCBA)

Spencer-Longhurst, Paul, with Kate Lowry and David Solkin, Richard Wilson Online : A Digital Catalogue Raisonne, , The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, 2014, no. P165, http://www.richardwilsononline.ac.uk/index.php?WINID=1582051040261

David Stacey, [ Exhibition Reviews ] And another view of the Richard Wilson exhibition ..., British Art Journal, vol. 15, Autumn 2014, p. 123, N6761 B74 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Denys Sutton, A meditative love of nature, The Richard Wilson Exhibition , Apollo, vol. 117, 1983, p. 44, N1 A54 117:1 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

The companion to a walk through the Art Treasures Exhibition of Paintings and Engravings at Old Trafford Palace, A. Ireland and Co., Manchester : UK, p. 62, no. 38, Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.4.2.233 (SML and available online: HathiTrust)

Thomas Wright, Some account of the life of Richard Wilson, Esq. R.A., Longman, London, 1824, pp. 14, 106, 272, ND497 W7 W7 OVERSIZE (RARE BOOKS YCBA)

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