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ANDREW WILSON (1780-1848)
  • ANDREW WILSON (1780-1848)


    Signed & dated l.r. Andrew Wilson / 1835 [possibly 1833]

    Watercolour & pencil, with gum arabic, heightened with bodycolour

    30 x 45 cm



    With The Fine Art Society, London (Apr., 1972);

    From whom purchased by a previous owner for £185;

    Private Collection, U.K.



    The Fine Art Society, London, 52nd Exhibition of Early English Watercolours, 27 March - 21 April 1972, no. 148




    A study for the present work is in the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, and is dated 1829 (acc. no. D4801 C, see final image above).



    Andrew Wilson was born in Edinburgh and studied there under Alexander Nasmyth whilst still a teenager. At seventeen, he moved to London to study at the Royal Academy Schools for three years. In 1800, Wilson travelled to Italy for the first time, returning twice more for further tours. He largely confined himself to Rome and Naples, focusing on architectural and landscape studies during this period.


    Upon his return to London in 1803, Wilson initiated a plan to import Italian Old Master paintings for the British market, utilising what he had seen and learned during his time in Italy. He established a close relationship with the entrepreneur William Buchanan, a major dealer of art during the Napoleonic period who had agents all over the continent by this time. Wilson returned to Italy to settle in Genoa, where he was under the protection of the American Consul (being a British citizen made life difficult in continental Europe during this period) and where he was, unusually for a British artist at this time, elected to the Ligurian Academy.


    As a member of the Academy, he was involved in an exhibition which Napoleon Bonaparte himself visited: according to contemporary sources, when Napoleon made admiring remarks in front of Wilson’s exhibition entry, another academician disparagingly informed the French Emperor that it was in fact by an Englishman. Napoleon is said to have retorted, ‘Le talent n’a pas de pays’.


    Wilson eventually returned to London by way of Germany, bringing with him around 50 master paintings, among them Rubens’ Brazen Serpent (now in the National Gallery, London) and Jacopo Bassano’s Adoration of the Magi (now in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh). Wilson had purchased the Rubens for £700 from Lorenso Marana and would later sell it to his friend Buchanan for £1,200, then a considerable sum even for a Rubens masterpiece.


    Wilson established himself as a watercolourist, joining the early artists’ society of Associated Artists in 1808 and becoming a drawing teacher at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He moved to Edinburgh in 1818 to take up the post of master of the Trustees’ Academy there, teaching (among others) Robert Scott Lauder, William Simson, and David Octavius Hill. It was in these years that Wilson was employed by General Sir John Hope, 4th Earl of Hopetoun, who he had perhaps met whilst teaching at Sandhurst, to oversee the collection of both Modern and Old Master paintings and works of art at the Earl's seat, Hopetoun House in Edinburgh. As Hopetoun's picture surveyor, Wilson was commissioned firstly to compile a report on the condition of the works, which led to his being employed to restore a number of them; following which Lord Hopetoun instructed Wilson to sell off the inferior works, to provide a number of his own large Italianate oil paintings, and finally to begin to buy new works for him in Italy.


    In 1826, Wilson returned to Italy for a final period, moving with his wife to Rome, Florence, and Genoa over the course of twenty years. He resumed his role as an expert on the Old Masters market and assisted, aside from the aforementioned Lord Hopetoun, and Pembroke and Sir Robert Peel with their collecting. He was also a crucial asset to the Royal Institution in Edinburgh, which was to become the National Galleries of Scotland, and secured numerous works for the institution which were to form part of the core collection of the Scottish National Galleries.


    In his final years, Wilson enjoyed an annual pension of £100 from the Edinburgh Royal Institution, as well as the continued support of the Hope family and his various other clients. He was, by the standards of many of his artist peers in Italy, one of the most commercially canny and prosperous artist-dealers of his age. (1)




    • Notes

      (1) Basil Skinner, 'Andrew Wilson & the Hopetoun Collection', in Country Life, August 15th, 1968

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