"Why, sir, Claude for air and Gaspar for composition and sentiment; you may walk in Claude's pictures and count the miles. But there are two painters whose merit the world does not yet know, who will not fail hereafter to be highly valued, Cuyp and Mompers" (To William Beechey, quoted in W.T. Whitley: "Artists and their Friends in England 1700-1799" )
[Note: It is generally accepted that "Mompers" refers to an unknown painter of two works in the collection of Wilson's patron, Lord Dartmouth (see Waterhouse (1968) p247), rather than the 17thC Flemish artist, Joos de Momper, who was not known in England in Wilson's time].
"Do not fall into the common mistake of objecting to Claude's figures"
"Spinach and eggs" (Wilson's description of George Barret's painting, according to William Beechey, quoted in W.T. Whitley: "Artists and their Friends in England 1700-1799" )
"Fried Parsley" (Wilson on Gainsborough, according to same source)
"Yes, Wright, I will give you air and you shall give me fire" (To Joseph Wright of Derby)
"Well done, water, By God" (on seeing the falls at Terni).
"How now, Mr. Jones, have you stolen my temple?"
"Why, sir, is it too dark?"
"Black enough, in all conscience, sir"
(To his pupil Thomas Jones, seeing a resemblance in a Jones painting to one of his own):
Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792):
"Our late ingenious academician, Wilson, has, I fear, been guilty, like many of his predecessors, of introducing gods and goddesses, ideal beings, into scenery which were by no means prepared to receive such personages. His landscapes were in reality too near common nature to admit supernatural objects. In consequence of this mistake, in a very admirable picture of a storm, which I have seen of his hand, many figures are introduced in the foreground, some in apparent distress, and some struck dead, as a spectator would naturally suppose, by the lightning; had not the painter injudiciously (as I think) rather chosen that their death should be imputed to a little Apollo, who appears in the sky, with his bent bow, and that those figures should be considered as the children of Niobe. To manage a subject of this kind, a peculiar style of art is required; and it can only be done without impropriety, or even without ridicule, when we adapt the character of the landscape, and that too, in all its parts, to the historical or poetical representation. This is a very difficult adventure and it requires a mind thrown back two thousand years and, as it were, naturalised in antiquity, like that of Nicolo Poussin, to achieve it…"
(Discourses, 14; reference in particular to the "Niobe" cat nos. 18, 19, 20)
Joseph Farington (diarist and Wilson pupil, 1747-1821):
"But wherever Wilson studied it was to nature that he principally referred. His admiration of the pictures of Claude could not be exceeded, but he contemplated those excellent works and compared them with what he saw in nature to refine his feeling and make his observation more exact; but he still felt independently without suffering his own genuine impressions to be weakened" (Biographical note, published in Ferens Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1936)
Peter Pindar (John Wolcot 1738-1819):
"Wilson has been called the English Claude; but how unjustly, so totally different their style. Claude sometimes painted grand scenes, but without a mind of grandeur; Wilson, on the contrary, could infuse a grandeur into the meanest objects; Claude when he drew on the bank of his own ideas was a mere castrato in the art; witness his "Landing of Aeneas in Italy"; …Wilson on the contrary was a Hercules. (quoted in Fletcher, 1909).
"But red-nosed Wilson, never mind; Immortal praises thou shalt find, And for a dinner have no cause to fear. Thou start'st at my prophetic rhymes, Don't be impatient for these times, Wait till thou hast been dead a hundred year"
(Lyric Odes to the R.A.'s, 1782).
William Hazlitt (1778-1830):
"We cannot subscribe to the opinion of those who assert that Wilson was superior to Claude as a man of genius; nor can we discern any other grounds for this opinion than what would lead to the general conclusion, - that the more slovenly the performance the finer the picture and that that which is imperfect is superior to that which is perfect……. There is no comparison between Claude and Wilson. Sir Joshua Reynolds used to say that there would be another Raffaelle before there would be another Claude" (from "Painting and the Fine Arts" B.R. Haydon & W. Hazlitt 1838).
John Constable (1776-1837):
"Poor Wilson! Think of his fate, think of his magnificence"
"One of the great men who shew the world what exists in nature but which was not known till his time"
"I can recollect nothing so much as a solemn, bright warm fresh landscape by Wilson, which still swims in my brain like a delicious dream" (after seeing "Tabley House" cat no. 56a).
"Landscape was afterwards still farther debased by Vernet, Hakert, Jacob Moor and the English Wootton, the last of whom, without manual dexterity, left it in unredeemed poverty and coarseness… Then, with Wilson and Gainsborough, the high and genuine qualities of landscape appeared in England at a time when they were utterly unknown in any other part of the world"
J.H.W. Turner (1775-1851):
"I do not think you could have hit upon a more desirable spot for your pencil and hope you may feel just what I felt in the days of my youth when I was in search of Richard Wilson's birthplace" (in 1847, to a friend about to visit Wales).
John Ruskin (1819-1900):
"..with the name of Richard Wilson the history of sincere landscape art founded on a meditative love of nature begins for England" (Oxford lecture VI, 1883; The Works of John Ruskin vol 33, 1908)
"It was Wilson who first charged the 'landscape' in Britain with the values of an independent work of art, sometimes - and in these he was less successful - by attempting the Grand Style and combining 'history' with landscape, and sometimes, which was his great achievement, by infusing into his scene a feeling, either solemn or lyrical, for the divine element in nature which can be best apprehended by likening it to the feeling which is the constant theme in Wordsworth…….It is in his interpretations of the British scene that Wilson made his most original contributions to landscape painting. His range of country is not very wide, Kew and Syon House, the Thames and Windsor Park, certain districts in the South-West and, above all, the steams and mountains of his native Wales. His Welsh views are the cream of his work and he saw the country with a mind rich in memories of the Roman Campagna" (from "Painting in Britain 1530-1790" Penguin 3rd edn 1969)
Andrew Wilton (curator of Turner collection, Tate, 1988):
"For the first few years of Turner's career as a painter, Wilson was quite explicitly his hero and his chief model"