Cardiff Exhibition (until Oct 26th, 2014)
The exhibition occupies 4 rooms of the museum, galleries 12-15, though Gallery 15 is largely occupied by examples from artists who followed Wilson, including his students, Farington, Jones and Hodges, as well as Turner, Constable and Wright.
The main opportunities offered by an exhibition of this kind are (a) the chance to see paintings rarely on public view, (b) the chance to enhance the viewing experience by placing paintings in relation to each other.
The two versions of the "Niobe" shown side-by-side in Gallery 14 tick both boxes; the earlier Ellesmere version is privately-owned and is shown only in Cardiff, while the Cumberland version beside it belongs to the Yale Centre.
Both of the very large paintings of Llangollen/Wynnstay done for Williams-Wynn, normally at Yale and rarely seen in the UK, are also included side-by-side.
Two of the best Wilsons from the Ford collection are also rarely seen; the "Vale of Narni" and the "Ruined Arch at Kew", the latter being displayed alongside the "Kew Pagoda" from Yale.
The "View of Tabley House", admired by Constable, has been out of public view for some time and important paintings from Dublin, Stourhead, Southampton, Swansea and Liverpool are also brought together under one roof.
The magnificent painting of "Holt Bridge and the River Dee" benefits enormously from being displayed at eye-level, instead of its usual position disgracefully-high on a dimly-lit wall of the National Gallery in London.
Among the more inspired display features was to show a "View of Tivoli" painted by Gaspard Dughet 100 years before Wilson (from the Ashmolean in Oxford) in order to illustrate Wilson's acknowledgement of "Gaspar" as a master of composition and his readiness to make full use of Gaspard's work in his own paintings.
I visited on the very first day the exhibition opened and attendance was quite poor, even though admission was free. It was of course wonderful to be able to wander freely with undisturbed views of the paintings, but sad also to find Wilson's work so little appreciated in his own country (relative, for example, to a French painting of a few water-lilies). We can only express our gratitude to the curators and organisers for their confidence and dedication.
Much smaller than Cardiff, and not aspiring to the same heights in terms of quality, this is nevertheless a charming and interesting display of the collection of one man (Marling) who bequeathed the paintings to Gloucester Museum.
A fine version of the Tate's "Hadrian's Villa" was worth a visit, but there was also a version of the "Ruined Arch at Kew" (otherwise known only from the Ford Collection) and a (damaged) "Tomb of Horatii and Curatii" (otherwise on view only at Wilton House, Salisbury).
Some with the appearance of oil sketches rather than finished paintings were charming, as well as interesting in being unique; these include the "Torre del Fiscale" and "Lake with Pavilion and Statue"
This is not an exhibition to illustrate Wilson's greatest achievements, but is still of enormous interest and well worth a visit.