Welsh artist Richard Wilson of Penegoes, near Machynlleth mid Wales was a pioneer of British landscape painting but as can be seen in this work he was also a highly skilled portraitist. Although it isn’t recorded that he underwent any formal schooling he had a great knowledge of the classics which had a great influence on his works. It was in 1729 that he moved to London to train as a portraitist. Wilson would have created this early work from ca. 1740 of Catherine Jones of Colomendy shortly after his apprenticeship of six years under the portraitist Thomas Wright had come to an end. The sitter was the artist’s cousin and owner of Colomendy Hall, near Llanferres, Denbighshire. Colomendy Hall would be the place where Richard Wilson would tragically die in poverty and relative obscurity in May, 1782 and where the sitter herself would die four years later. As art historian David. H. Solkin argued that all of the portraits he painted during this period prior to his trip to Italy ‘…broadly adheres to the manner of the leading London masters of the period, such as Thomas Hudson and Allan Ramsay’. This work is of interest therefore for it is one of the last portraits he would have created before his departure to Italy where he re-directed his efforts towards becoming one of the greatest landscape artists of his time.
He returned to London in 1757 where he established himself as a landscape artist of the classical, grande style of Italian views and classical literary landscapes at a studio in the Great Piazza, Covent Garden. This grew into a prosperous business which had a number of apprentices- one of these being the famous Welsh artist Thomas Jones (1742-1803). Wilson shortly after this became one of the founder members of the Royal Academy of Arts. One of Wilson’s greatest achievements was that he opened his artistic contemporaries’ eyes to the majestic magnificence of his home country of Wales leading the way for generations of future artists to explore and record its wonder. In the mid 1760s he painted Snowndon from Llyn Nantlle, Caernarfon Castle and Cader Idris as well as views of South Wales. A sketch for the work Conwy Castle created by Wilson from mid 18th century also forms part of our collection here at the National Library of Wales. As the art historian Peter Lord stated: ‘His painting is placed as a contributor to the growth of the Welsh landscape as an icon representing the National Soul’.