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Richard Wilson. New Haven and Cardiff

IN 1982 THE Tate Gallery organised in conjunction with the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, and the National Museum Wales, Cardiff, an exhibition to mark the bicentenary of the death of Richard Wilson (1714–82). Subtitled ‘The Landscape of Reaction’, it, or rather the catalogue by David Solkin which accompanied it, raised a storm of protest. The Daily Telegraph led the charge, with an editorial under the headline ARCADIA LOST in ‘a morass of confusions and half-baked Marxist thinking [. . .] an insult to Wilson, the Tate and to art history’. Elsewhere, the judgment of the Tate’s Director was questioned for allowing such subversive ideas to invade the realm of eighteenth-cen­tury landscape painting. Yet little more than a decade later, in his magisterial introduction to the fifth edition of Ellis Waterhouse’sPainting in Britain, 1530–1790, Michael Kitson could write that ‘it is not easy to understand what all the fuss was about’, although he went on to chart the progress of that ‘revolution’ (his word) in the study of British Art which had taken place in the intervening years.

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