Photo credit: Leicester Museums and Galleries
I am intrigued by the description of this painting. Masham has neither a castle, nor a cliff. The river meanders through fields, and does not pass by rocks at all. So I wonder where it is. Does anyone know?
Ibbetson has also painted a rustic cottage at Masham, and the background is clearly identifiable, the church and the building next to the church are still there (https://bit.ly/3j8S2C5). He is buried at Masham. Although Richmond does have a castle on top of a rocky cliff face, this is not Richmond either, unless it was artistically altered.
Could anyone comment on Ibbetson’s approach to landscape?
Comment from the collection: ‘This is a curious one, in that I'm not sure when it became described as Masham Castle – our 1958 Catalogue of Paintings just records it as “Landscape with Figures”. The database record says “A fanciful view which may have been based on a view of what is now Swinton Park Luxury Castle Hotel”, but that does not have a cliff either so perhaps that is why it is “fanciful”.’
Well, the title is clearly spurious, so it can be changed to "Landscape with Figures and Ruined Castle." The figures all appear to be women washing clothes at a river or stream.
The topography of a ruin on a high cliff by a river fits some Welsh castles, Chepstow for instance.
Ibbetson has over 150 paintings on ArtUK, mostly landscapes, for which he was best known in his day. Well over a third of all the paintings are related to specific places in their titles, mainly in the Lake District and Wales. And this makes sense because the time he was active was the birth of Romanticism and domestic tourism and buyers wanted representations of where they had been or might go. Generic scenes would not be as popular.
Of course complete accuracy might be tweaked for effect and details and figures added. It's possible that whenever he sat down to sketch, a gang of local washerwomen invaded his view (he must have thought the countryside smelt of soap), if not they could be added later. But pictures had to be recognisable.
So even if this picture is mislabelled, it was probably meant to be a picturesque version of somewhere. Wales has lots of castles and lots of rivers and lots of castles by rivers and seems the most likely place to look. Kidwelly Castle might be a possibility. This roughly contemporary (1810) etching:
might show the view from a different angle and implies a similar level of dereliction at the time. But there may well be other candidates.
This is Turner's version of Chepstow Castle from about the same viewpoint: not quite right but similar.
The building in the background with the row of arcaded windows ( which Chepstow lacks) might be a clue.
I think it is probably unlikely that Ibbeston intended this to be a representation of a particular castle. If it was based on a real castle, it will have undergone some enhancement and recontextualising, so to speak.
In terms of his inspiration, I have been having a look round. We need to look for round towers and surving machicolations (although Ibbetson may have added these).
Beeston Castle looked a possibility. Ibbeston painted it at least twice (examples in Ulster Museum, and Nottingham Castle Museum on Art UK). But the location is perhaps too different.
Chepstow is perhaps another one. For comparison there is an Ibbetson-style example here- https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/Back-of-Chepstow-Castle/AC5945805988E270.
And a hopelessly overblown John Martin watercolour of Chepstow illustrates how the Romantics played with their source material - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Martin_-_Moonlight_-_Chepstow_Castle_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
This is probably a capriccio of sorts, with the added genre element of the washerwomen, all calculated to be picturesque.
I agree, Jacinto, and unless there are any convincing suggestions in the next few weeks I will close this discussion accordingly.
While not the only Romantic models to emulate that Ibbetson might have had in mind, de Loutherbourg certainly provided some for the castle and the bucolic staffage, though not usually in the same painting: eg two castles, (1) supposedly Palestine and (2) Conway - of which there is a print version:
And figures, in similar sunset tone to Ibbetson: