Richard Wilson – Online!

by Paul Spencer-Longhurst

  • 10 Dec 2014

Richard Wilson Online, finally went live on 23 October as planned. Hurray! This meant that it was up on the internet in time to coincide with the last days of the tercentenary exhibition in Cardiff, whose legacy of renewed public awareness and scholarly interest in Wilson it is designed to extend. I am immensely grateful to very many people for helping me make this happen, amongst whom I must particularly thank Brian Allen, whose idea the online catalogue raisonné was; Mark Hallett, whose enthusiasm and support enabled the continuation and extension of its scope, research and preparation; my collaborators, Kate Lowry and David Solkin; and my tireless colleagues, Maisoon Rehani and Peter Thomas. The result of five years’ intensive research, the site was given a ‘soft’ launch as a work-in-progress, allowing for infilling, elaboration and feedback from users. In the six weeks since the launch, progress has also been made towards optimising it for viewing on mobile devices.

During the course of the project numerous works that have changed ownership over the previous 60 years have been identified and re-examined. Among these many that have not been seen recently or were previously little known have been relocated, recorded in situ and re-photographed. These include Bourne Park, Kent, Croome Court, Worcestershire and the three views of Moor Park, Hertfordshire - all in English private collections. Kate and I have undertaken many study visits to such collections as well as to public ones in Britain and abroad. These have led to some memorable moments on a personal level: teetering on swaying ladders in winter gloom in pursuit of a closer look or the perfect detail photograph for example, or, at the other extreme, being offered a swim in the owner’s private pool at the height of summer (much appreciated). Then there was the carefully pre-arranged visit to the museum in the Cotswolds which on arrival we found completely closed and unresponsive to all our knocks, rings and phone calls for a good half hour after the appointed time.

Apart from this sort of thing, misunderstandings have been mainly limited to the seemingly inevitable confusions of our hero with either the eponymous Scottish actor of Victor Meldrew fame or the contemporary sculptor and installation artist. At least one kind correspondent, however, was working on the assumption that RW was/is alive and well and living in Bloomsbury (Fig.1). We very much hope that Richard Wilson Online will help to reduce such confusion and restore Richard Wilson RA to his rightful place in the pantheon of British art, up there with Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough.

Envelope addressed to Richard Wilson at 16 Bedford Square.

Fig.1, Envelope addressed to Richard Wilson at 16 Bedford Square.

Our first monthly metrics kindly supplied by Tom Scutt, showed that the online catalogue had 672 visits of an average of 5 minutes 20 seconds, with 8077 page views. About 2/3 (66.5 %) of these were from the UK and 12.65 % from the US, with other visitors scattered across Ireland, France, Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Japan and elsewhere.

Almost immediately after the launch an exciting positive development happened when a private collector contacted us to identify himself as the owner of a major painting previously known only from intermittent journeys through the salerooms and unreproduced on our website (Fig. 2).

Lake Avernus, signed and dated 1764, Private Collection, Wales.

Richard Wilson RA, Fig. 2, Lake Avernus, signed and dated 1764, Private Collection, Wales.

This meant that Kate and I were unexpectedly able to examine the picture at length and in congenial circumstances and it will shortly be joining its cousins catalogued and illustrated in Richard Wilson Online. The facility on the site for feedback has produced many other enlightening and helpful comments from users, which we aim to incorporate as appropriate and for which we are more than grateful. Please keep them coming and help to spread the word about Richard Wilson Online!

About the author

  • Independent Scholar