Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 62.djvu/127
Artists, including some of his best known pictures. Besides the works already mentioned there were ‘Temple of Clitumnus’ and ‘The Lake of Nemi’ (1761); a landscape with hermits (1762) (possibly that engraved under the title of ‘The White Monk’); ‘A large landscape with Phaeton's petition to Apollo,’ exhibited in 1763 and afterwards repeated; ‘A Summer Storm, with the Story of the two Lovers from Thomson (Celadon and Amelia)’ (1765), and ‘A Storm at Daybreak, with the Story of Ceyx and Alcione—Ovid's Metam.’ (the picture, part of which is said to have been painted from a pot of porter and a Stilton cheese). Many of his pictures of this period were engraved by Woollett, William Byrne, J. Roberts, and others, most of them for Boydell. Although the subjects were principally Italian, he exhibited a few English and Welsh scenes, including ‘View near Chester,’ ‘Carnarvon Castle,’ and ‘Snowdon,’ and ‘A View of a Ruin in Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales's Garden at Kew.’
Wilson was one of the first members of the Royal Academy who were nominated by George III at its institution in 1768, and he contributed regularly to its exhibitions till 1780. During this period there was little change in his art. In 1770 he sent his picture of ‘Cicero and his two friends Atticus and Quintus at his villa at Arpinum’ (engraved by Woollett for Boydell). In 1771 he sent ‘A View near Winstay, the seat of Sir Watkins W. Wynn, Bart.;’ one of Crow Castle, near Llangollen; and another of Houghton, the seat of the late Marquis of Tavistock. In 1774 he painted a large picture, six feet by five, of the ‘Cataract of Niagara, from a drawing by Lieutenant Pierie of the Royal Artillery’ (engraved by William Byrne), and a view of Cader Idris, perhaps the picture taken from the summit of this mountain which was engraved by E. and M. Rooker. In 1775 he exhibited ‘Passage of the Alps at Mount Cenis’ and three others, including a ‘Lake of Nemi,’ a favourite subject with him and his few customers. In 1776 he sent ‘A View of Sion House from Richmond Gardens,’ possibly the picture which at this date or before is said to have been the cause of the loss of court patronage. He asked sixty guineas for it, to which Lord Bute objected as too much, upon which the artist replied that if the king could not pay the sum at once, he would take it in instalments. This story is generally told of a date previous to the institution of the Royal Academy, but there is no trace of the picture before 1776. After this the only picture of importance by him which appeared at the academy was ‘Apollo and the Seasons,’ exhibited in 1779; but another celebrated picture, ‘Meleager and Atalanta,’ which was not exhibited, was engraved by Woollett and Pouncey and published in this year. The figures in this picture were supplied by Mortimer. A mezzotint by Earlom from the same picture, or a replica of it, appeared in 1771. In 1780 he sent a ‘View of Tabley, Cheshire, the seat of Sir F. Leicester,’ his last contribution to the exhibitions.
This was probably one of his commissions, and they were very few; for in spite of his reputation, which was always high, he had to suffer from almost continuous neglect—a neglect increasing with his years. At last the pawnbrokers were his principal customers, but he found it difficult to sell even to them. While he could get scarcely sufficient employment to live, other inferior artists, like George Barret the elder, George Smith of Chichester, and Zuccarelli, flourished exceedingly. Moreover, he had to suffer special mortifications. In a contest for fame with Smith of Chichester before the Royal Society that august body decided against Wilson. His picture of Kew Gardens was returned to him by the king, and, worst of all perhaps, he had to listen to a deputation of artists headed by Edward Penny [q. v.], who recommended him to adopt the lighter style of Zuccarelli. He is said to have offended them by the warmth of his remarks on this occasion.
For many years Wilson lived in the Great Piazza of Covent Garden, and from 1771–2 he was at 36 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, from which he was able to enjoy the view of the country away to Hampstead and Highgate. During 1777–8 he was at 24 Norton Street, and in 1779 in Great Titchfield Street, but as he grew poorer he had to seek more modest quarters, until at length he lived in a wretched lodging in Tottenham Street, Tottenham Court Road. He was reduced to such straits that when one day a young friend introduced a lady who gave him a commission for two pictures he had not money to buy paints and brushes to execute them. On another occasion he asked Barry [see Barry, James, 1741–1806] if he knew any one mad enough to employ a landscape-painter.
In 1776, on the death of Francis Hayman [q. v.], he applied for and obtained the post of librarian to the Royal Academy, for which he was well fitted by his education and taste, and its slender stipend was a welcome addition to his resources. A few years after this he inherited from his brother a small estate at Llanberis, which enabled him to live in comfort for the short remnant of his days.