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Body colour (and oil?) on paper - Study for Landscape, Destruction of Niobe's Children
  • Study for Landscape, Destruction of Niobe's Children
    Wilson, Richard RA, born 1713 - died 1782
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Study for Landscape, Destruction of Niobe's Children

  • Object:

    Body colour (and oil?) on paper

  • Place of origin:

    Britain (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    Early to mid-1760s? (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Wilson, Richard RA, born 1713 - died 1782 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Body Colour (and oil?) on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Henry J. Pfungst

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

This work was examined by Rachel Turnbull, V&A oil paintings conservator on 18th March 2010, using a portable computer microscope, with Katherine Coombs, Curator, Paintings. The work is painted on laid paper which has been stuck to card. We are both convinced that there is no oil present in this work. The surface appearance is consistent with very thick body colour, probably applied with a coarse brush which would have been more appropriate to working in oil than watercolour. Certain areas give a superficial appearance of the impasto effect of oil, but on closer examination it was revealed that areas of the paint had formed small bubbles which had then burst, which is consistent with a water-based medium rather than oil. Rachel Turnbull noted that while the V&A now has the technology to assess pigments (Raman spectroscopy), it does not have the facilities to assess the medium used to bind the pigment i.e. whether it is gum arabic or oil.

Place of Origin

Britain (probably, painted)


Early to mid-1760s? (painted)


Wilson, Richard RA, born 1713 - died 1782 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Body Colour (and oil?) on paper


Height: 412 mm, Width: 515 mm

Object history note

Given by Henry J. Pfungst, 1915

Historical significance: Richard Wilson was a Welsh painter who had studied in Italy. Dutch landscape painting, particularly the work of Aelbert Cuyp, also influenced him. Wilson's patrons were the wealthy elite who sent their sons on the Grand Tour. He had begun as a portraitist, but in about 1752 gave up portrait painting in favour of landscapes. He continued to paint landscapes in the Italian manner even after he returned to Britain. Wilson was a founder member of the Royal Academy and enjoyed considerable success until the early 1770s. Although his career then went into decline, his treatment of landscape strongly influenced the next generation of artists, particularly J.M.W. Turner.

David H. Solkin, Richard Wilson: The Landscape of Reaction, The Tate Gallery, 1982, cat. no. 86., p.200.

"Landscape Study for the Beaumont Niobe early to mid-1760s (?)
Body-colour (?) on paper.
Martin Hardie, Watercolour Painting in Britain, 3 vols, London 1967, vol I, p.74, pl 45.
W.G Constable, Richard Wilson, London and Cambridge, Mass. 1953, p.163 (as doubtful work).

This work appears to have served as a preliminary study for the 'Destruction of the Children of Niobe' which Sir George Beaumont purchased from the sculptor Joseph Wilton and later bequeathed to the National Gallery (destroyed during world War II; repr. Constable, p..18). Wilson is not otherwise known to have produced any comparable large sketches in colour for the landscape backgrounds of his subject-pictures; nor can we point to any other works by him in this particular medium, which appears to be a form of body-colour similar to that often used by Paul Sandby. These unusual characteristics have created a good deal of doubt as to the authorship of the V&A study. While those doubts will probably never be fully resolved, the numerous differences between this composition and the finished oil would seem to rule out the possibility of its being a copy. Its freedom of handling, moreover, is consistent with what one might expect from a preparatory sketch. Since the completed painting no long survives, the task of suggesting a date for the present work is an extremely problematic one. I am tempted to assign the Beaumont 'Niobe' itself to the mid- to later 1760s, based on the stylistic qualities of its extant repetitions. Presumably the V&A study would also stem from around this time, though it may conceivably be considerably earlier."

Descriptive line

Richard Wilson, 'Study for Landscape, Destruction of Niobe's Children'.


Paper; Bodycolour






Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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