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A pool surrounded by a rocky embankment thickly wooded with trees, in which a monk reads from a book and another monk stands in front of him. Engraving by W. Woollett and W. Ellis, 1778, after R. Wilson.

  • Wilson, Richard, 1713-1782.
4 June, 1778
  • Pictures

About this work


In the distance a congregation of monks pray around a raised cross. "An elderly monk and his younger companion pass their days in study and contemplation by a still dark pool. Their peace is contrasted with the violently destroyed sculpture of a lion to the right, whose head lies almost unobserved, looking back towards its own ruins. The rich Italianate landscape is dominated by oak trees, associated in the 18th century with pre-Christian druids. In the far distance a religious ceremony takes place in a sunlit glade. At the lower left is an amphora and ribbon with an illegible inscription"--Spencer-Longhurst, op. cit. no. P114 (the painting in the opposite direction in Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea)

"The monks are contrasted with the ruined statue of the lion to suggest that a life contemplating Christian values will lead to a wise and contented old age, whereas leonine violence and aggression will bring only tragic destruction. The glimpse of a Christian religious procession in the far background suggests also a contrast between the contemplative and active life. The rich wooded landscape is a relatively uncharacteristic constructioin for Wilson. He usually preferred a prospect or a more Claudean approach but this kind of enclosed composition was adumbrated in Italy in the 1750s in such works as P46 Ariccia -I and was subsequently repeated in P182 The wilderness in St James's Park of the mid-1770s. Solitude first appeared as the title of the composition in the related print by Woollett and Ellis of 1778 ... David Solkin has argued that the composition gives emblematic form to the notion of rural retirement as a moral activity which allows mankind the opportunity to study and become aware of the greatness of God. This message was designed to appeal to to patrician landowners, who liked to think of themselves as virtuous hermits in the private confines of their country estates. Another 'aristocratic myth' suggested that rural leisure was necessary to the acquisition of wisdom. ... Originally the painting was called Landskip with hermits. The composition, with apparent references to ancient British virtues and liberties, proved popular and Wilson and his studio made a number of copies."--Spencer-Longhurst, op. cit. no. P114 (the painting in the opposite direction in Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea)

Robert Ledger, the owner of the painting, is not identified in Spencer-Longhurst, loc. cit. He may be the linen draper who was admitted to the freedom of York in 1752, and of whom (if the same man) there is a portrait (aged 40 in 1760) in York Museums Trust signed by John Maurice Hauck


London (Charlotte Street, Rathbone Place) : Published as the Act directs ... by Wm. Woollett, engraver to His Majesty, 4 June, 1778.

Physical description

1 print : engraving, with etching ; platemark 44.2 x 55.2 cm


Solitude. To Sir George Beaumont, Bar.t this plate is dedicated, by his obliged humble servant William Woollett. From the original picture in the possession of Mr Rob.t Ledger. Still let me pierce into the midnight depth / Of yonder grove, of wildest, largest growth: / That, forming high in air a woodland quire, / Nods o'er the mount beneath. At every step, / Solemn, and slow, the shadows blacker fall, / And all is awful listening gloom around. / These are the haunts of meditation, these / The scenes where antient bards th'inspiring breath, / Extatic, felt: and from this world retir'd'. Thomson's Summer line 516. Painted by Richard Wilson, R.A. Engraved by Wm. Woollett & Wm. Ellis


[State with Woollett's address given as Charlotte Street, Rathbone Place instead of Green Str. Leicester Fields].

Creator/production credits

"From about 1770 he [Ellis] was working in William Woollett's studio. ... In 1778 Ellis was acknowledged jointly with Woollett as the engraver of Solitude after Richard Wilson."--Oxford dictionary of national biography

References note

Paul Spencer-Longhurst, with Kate Lowry and David Solkin, Richard Wilson online: a digital catalogue raisonné, London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2014, no. E44 (Woollett's address given as Green Str. Leicester Fields)


Wellcome Library no. 3162958i

Reproduction note

After a painting in the opposite direction which exists in several versions--Spencer-Longhurst, loc. cit.


  • English

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