Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Wales: Artists and Subjects 47 Is this landscape by Peter de Wint or George Fennel Robson?

GMIII_MCAG_1920_637
Topic: Artist

At some point in its history at Manchester Art Gallery 'Neath Abbey, Glamorganshire' (unsigned) has been reattributed. There is a lack of documentation as to who made this reattribution and for what reason.

Is this work by the original attribution of Peter de Wint, or is it by George Fennel Robson?

Provenance: During the period below the work was considered a de Wint. John Graham of Lincoln, his sale, Christies, 5th May 1894 (43): Bought Agnews; sold to Dr Lloyd Roberts, 19th December, 1894; his bequest to the gallery in 1920.

In 1825 a ‘Neath Abbey with the copper works Glamorganshire’ was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society No. 106. We have included a scan of a Manchester Art Gallery document that lists this along with reference to a ‘Neath Abbey, S. Wales’ that was exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, 1857 (269).
It is unclear if these are the same work. A confirmed further exhibition of the work in question is listed in the Glasgow, International Exhibition, 1901 (821) and here it was listed as ‘Landscape – Neath Abbey’. Here is also the only reference to G. F. Robson that can be found.

I also attach the page of the Art Treasures Exhibition Catalogue of 1857, page 186, no. 269, Neath Abbey, S. Wales by a ‘Mr P. Dewint’.

With regards to the copper works, by 1730, some of the buildings surrounding the Abbey were being used for copper smelting, and the rest were abandoned. In the late eighteenth century, an iron foundry was opened near the abbey ruins by a company owned by the Price, Fox and Tregelles families.

George Fennel Robson would not have travelled to this part of South Wales to do just one painting – of Neath Abbey. What else did he do in this part of the country? And when?

Robson painted predominantly in Scotland: the Highlands and Perthshire. He also painted scenes of Durham, the Isle of Wight and Wales. On closer research it has been noted that Robson painted scenes in the North of Wales such as Snowdon and Tryfan. However, this does not necessarily mean that he did not venture to the South of Wales.

Contrastingly, it says in de Wint’s Chronology that in 1824 he made his first visit to Glamorgan – precisely where this piece was painted.

We are currently leaning towards returning the painting to its original attribution of Peter de Wint, but would appreciate Art Detectives’ input.

Manchester Art Gallery, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Art UK will be amended with the information that this painting is by Peter de Wint (1784–1849).

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.

46 comments

De Wint and Robson have such different styles that it should not be too hard to distinguish between them at first hand, although this is more difficult with Art Detective's low res images - some high res details would be useful. I am surprised that no reference is made to style and technique in the Discussion proposal.

As recorded, De Wint did paint Neath Abbey. See a sketch sold by Sotheby's 7/8 July 2011, lot 269, and a poor reproduction of a probably more finished version, at http://www.artchive.com/web_gallery/P/Peter-de-Wint/Neath-Abbey,-Glamorganshire,-Evening.html - taken from almost the same viewpoint as the Manchester picture, so it appears to have been the preferred picturesque view. (An extraordinary coincidence is the bird flying low over the water, in the same position in both!)

Even in this poor Artchive reproduction, however, we can detect De Wint's typical use of deep, rich but transparent colours. G.F. Robson on the other hand typically used minute brushstrokes and opaque bodycolour, as can be seen in the Manchester picture and its description.

On the grounds of style, and a little familiarity with both artists' work, the Manchester work seems to me much more likely to be by Robson.

Manchester Art Gallery,

I have posted this query as a Collection Information Manager who has gathered the information available about the work rather than as a curator with a knowledge of style (they're all busy at the moment) so apologies for that. I will post a higher resolution image for consideration.

Anthony Clarke,

It looks a lot looser than Robsons style which was much more laboured and detailed. I would say its a De Wint.

Martin Hopkinson,

de Wint's oils are still understudied and work remains to be done as to which oils can be securely attributed. There is an unpublished thesis by Christopher Allan of the early 1970s [Edinburgh University] and a not totally adequate book by Hammond Smith, Peter DeWint 1784-1849, F. Lewis, London, 1982.

I was looking at a Robson yesterday in the Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere, and this plus the general images on the web have a glassy and rather mechanical quality, with strong outlines, which don't seem apparent here. Its an unusually dark subject for de Wint but does have a greater depth in the painting technique as well as the composition, and he did do works with its high level of finish as exhibition pieces, albeit looser ones (esp in the foregrounds) tend to be more familiar: I'm looking for example at the Sotheby's sale catalogue (2002) of items from the Pryor collection . (Lot 340 in that is s study of a black cow which is the spit of the one centre right, but is rather a small hook to hang anything on!) Given the provenence documentation, such as it is, from a collector who had other de Wints and the evidence that he painted the subject - where there is none that Robson got near the place- it seems a little strange that an almost passing remark about an affinity to Robson should have taken hold to the apparent degree it has. It may be unusual for de Wint but looks better than the general run of Robson.

Much better, thanks, and strengthens my belief it is more likely to be by Robson, see for example the hatching in the purple moorland to the right. De Wint did not do this.

Online, Unfortunately only more recent Sotheby images are available in good detail. But see Bredon Hill, 8 Dec 2005, lot 185, and 22 May 2014, lot 107, for what I see as the De Wint distinctive manner and technique, not apparent in this Neath Abbey.

The Manchester typescript catalogue states simply that the ‘technique strongly resembles that of G.F. Robson’. I suggest that this should be taken at face value: in other words it was not intended to mean that the watercolour is actually by Robson.

Although short-lived, George Fennel Robson (1788-1833) exhibited prolifically at the annual exhibitions of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours (in the same years as Peter De Wint) and his watercolours shown there included many subjects in north Wales. The following work, almost certainly the ‘Trivaen, Caernarvonshire, North Wales’ in the exhibition of 1826 (no.152), is a typical example:
http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3650141

However, he did not exhibit any south Wales subjects and there is no evidence that he ever visited that part of the country -- where Neath Abbey is situated. Robson clearly liked mountainous landscapes, such as those he found in north Wales and Scotland, and responded to them in a way which, though striking and impressive, tended towards lurid colouring and over-dramatic compositions, with (as Pieter has noted) strong outlines. Apart from a hint of blue-purple in the surrounding hills, the Manchester watercolour does not have these characteristics.

A Peter De Wint watercolour of Neath Abbey taken from exactly the opposite direction compared with the Manchester work was in the Walter Brandt collection and sold at Sotheby’s, London, 7-8 July 2011 (lot 269):
http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/lot.269.html/2011/old-master-british-drawings-sale-l11040

The technique of the ex-Brandt watercolour typifies, without any doubt, the free transparent washes which are so admired in De Wint’s informal and preparatory works. For this reason and the fact that it does not actually include the copper works (apart from what may be a small slag heap to the right) it cannot be the watercolour exhibited at the Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1825 as ‘Neath Abbey, with the Copper Works, Glamorganshire’ (no.106), priced at 30 guineas. (The auction catalogue of 2011 gives this exhibition reference but omits the work's title.) The Manchester watercolour is painted in a more detailed, finished manner and moreover is of substantial size (42 x 77.5 cm according to the typescript listing, compared with the ex-Brandt watercolour’s 22.5 x 48.6 cm). I suggest there is every reason to see its handling as exemplifying De Wint’s exhibition style, in contrast to his informal, preparatory style, and that the Manchester watercolour was almost certainly his exhibit no.106 at the Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1825. We can speculate that there was possibly a smaller, more freely painted preparatory watercolour for it, akin to the ex-Brandt sheet.

The work lent by Mr H. Cheney to the Manchester ‘Art Treasures Exhibition’ of 1857 could be the watercolour now at Manchester or a preparatory study for it if such existed, or the ex-Brandt ‘Neath Abbey’. The 1894 sale of the John Graham collection was a posthumous one: he is described as ‘deceased, late of Albert Gate’ – i.e. London. The words ‘of Lincoln’ in the typescript catalogue are thus erroneous. If not a simple typing error, they perhaps derive from a confused reading or memory of Graves’s ‘Art Sales’ – where the line immediately above that for Graham’s ‘Neath Abbey’ records the same owner's De Wint of Lincoln.





Two De Wint 'looser' versions of the subject (both cited above), and the item in question as possibly a third large and denser exhibition piece, of which he is known to have shown one with a title that fits (amid many other 'finished' subjects for the purpose), plus no evidence of Robson being anywhere in the subject area added up it makes a strong circumstantial case, unless one is absolutely convinced it can't be by him on style.

From what I have seen of Robson, I doubt its him, so if not Robson and not de Wint, could it be a pupil of the latter? He certainly had them though I can't remember if names are known, at least at this level of professionalism, since its in no way amateur work. Or is this bending over backwards to avoid a fairly reasonable albeit circumstantial case for concluding De Wint is the more probable?
In the end its the collection's call.

Whether or not one accepts the 'strong circumstantial case' for the Manchester watercolour being by De Wint, and by extension the work shown in 1825, it's clear that De Wint got the title of his exhibit that year wrong. It was a famous iron works, not a copper works, which existed at Neath Abbey from 1792 (with two great blast furnaces operating from 1793), closing in 1885. I don't think there is any doubt that the Manchester watercolour shows Neath Abbey and the adjacent industrial site. It is thus an important visual document relating to the Industrial Revolution and it would be very helpful from the point of view of searching and tagging to include a reference to the iron works in the ArtUK title: thus 'Neath Abbey, with the Iron Works, Glamorganshire' (or West Glamorgan under the current dispensation).

Definitely a potential candidate for anything on landscape art and the industrial revolution and -whoever by- the fact its iron not copper, and less of a grand theatre-set performance, makes it both another approach, location and (for illustrative purposes) useful alternative to de Loutherbourg's 'Coalbrookdale by Night'!

Are we going to get any further with this? It seems to me one of those cases where AD discussions hit the limitations of operating 'through a glass darkly' when it comes down to connoisseurial views on manner, which really need the item in front of one, first-hand. I think the circumstantial evidence is strong enough to lean on the side of de Wint and (from what I've seen of Robson) more positively against him, but its not my call for AD and anyway really up to Manchester. The principle which I think is generally good idea as the list of still-open discussions gets longer, is not to continue beyond the limitations imposed by the medium -ie. the screen-, at least in cases where other supporting evidence (as here) points in a clear direction: it might be wrong, but its at least a basis for a cautious provisional suggestion for the time being.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Thank you for the contributions, if we have now reached that point I shall take all the comments to our curatorial team to discuss to make a decision. I will update with the outcome.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Just to note that another contributor from Neath would like it to be known that he believes it is the Cheadle Copperworks that can be seen in the work not the Ironworks.

However I found the below.
Excerpt taken from ancestry "Cheadle Copper Company who stayed in production until 1821. In 1824 the works were taken over by the Neath Abbey Iron Company who converted the buildings for ship-building and engineering."
http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~waggy/copper.html

I know it was mentioned about the work possibly being displayed in 1825 but was it agreed when the work was executed? Depending on that exact date would allow for if it were a copper works or an iron works.

I'm not going to takes shots at date from the image but I think 1825 as an exhibition date is the only one the circumstantial evidence for De Wint showing such a subject has produced, which is right on the cusp of what you say of the change from copper to iron. The odds therefore are that -if his- he perhaps saw it in the copper period (and hence the exhibited title). Whichever it is - and there's no obvious blast furnace-does not help on the authorship.

Pieter is right to say we should now make formal recommendations to the extent that the documentary evidence points to de Wint being the more likely author but it has not been possible to reach a consensus on authorship based on the quality of the image available and without first-hand study.

Edward Stone,

The collection has been contacted about this recommendation.

E Jones,

I don't know if this would be of any use to the Gallery but there is an article about the sale in Christies in the Birmingham Daily Post, Mon May 7th 1894. It states that the painting 'Neath Abbey' was sold as a de Wint. alongside 'A view of Lincoln' by the same artist.

1 attachment

Thanks: that usefully adds here the price - 60 guineas- to the known Graham sale provenance of 1894, though not a patch on the Lincoln at 505 gns, (perhaps because a more 'De Wint' subject?)

E Jones,

I realise this has probably been concluded and am sure it must have been mentioned but it's interesting to compare the painting with
"Lincoln from the River at Sunset", Usher Gallery, which is on here.

https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/lincoln-from-the-river-at-sunset-81978/view_as/grid/search/keyword:de-wint/page/4

Very very similar composition, style etc. Could almost fit one on top of the other. They look like the same eye and hand have made very similar decisions.

E Jones,

Incidentally, if it's any use
In the 1891 book by Gilbert Richard Redgrave
'David Cox and Peter de Wint'

It lists the works de Wint exhibited
In the Exhibitions of the Society of Painters in Water Colours

It states that painting 106. In the 1818 exhibition was
Neath Abbey, with Copper Works, Glamorganshire.


If this is to be believed then it would be the Copper works as
the Neath Abbey Copper Works did not close until 1821.
Iron works did not open until 1824.

Am sure there would be confirmation held with the
Society of Painters in Watercolours with regards to the 1818 exhibition.




Manchester Art Gallery,

Just to provide an update on where the collection is on this. The painting is stored off site and we are arranging to see the painting first hand in light of what has been discussed so that we make a conclusion to the discussion. I will report back in due course.

Robin Campbell 01,

I have seen this interesting discussion only today. I don't see much against the original attribution to De Wint. In rendering the perspective of the hills on the right Robson would have surely made much sharper divisions of tone. And Robson had no confidence in the drawing of animals, and usually employed Robert Hills to add them: the two cows are beautifully drawn, as one would expect from De Wint. If there is no sign that the cows were later additions, this would rule out Robson.

Just to point out that we now seem to have the strange coincidence of two separate date references to a watercolour by de Wint exhibited at the Society of Painters in Watercolours as ‘Neath Abbey, with the Copper Works, Glamorganshire’ and numbered 106 on each occasion. First in 1818 - according to E.Jones above reporting an entry in Redgrave (1891 ) - in 1818, and second from earlier on in the discussion in 1825, when priced at 30 guineas. Whether this is the same one appearing twice, or two, or one or both of them being the present one, or just a slip somewhere, is TBC.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Further update from the collection. We're arranging all of our De Wints and our Robsons be brought together at the main store for a session of compare and contrast.

Osmund Bullock,

It's just a mistake, Pieter - I'm afraid E Jones has misread the reference to "Neath Abbey, with Copper Works, Glamorganshire" in Gilbert Redgrave's 1891 'David Cox and Peter de Wint'. The book in fact lists its exhibition year at the OWS as 1825 (#106), not 1818. See http://bit.ly/2gOL46t . This is in accordance with the transcription given in 'The Royal Watercolour Society - The First Fifty Years 1805-1855' (which additionally gives the 30gns price, but no buyer name), and with the information given to us by Richard Green in his extensive and persuasive post six months ago.

Purely for the record and as a potential addition to Manchester's catalogue entry, Hammond Smith in his 'Peter DeWint 1784-1849', London 1982, p.182, lists this watercolour (under ' Works by Peter DeWint in Public Collections) with a question mark. This expresses his doubt about the attribution, although he does not elaborate. Incidentally. Smith prefers the spelling of DeWint as one word on the evidence of the artist's 'signature on a number of documents'.

I wonder if that's his own view or in whole or part an echo of the doubts which at some point -though presumbly before him- the Manchester file noted on the matter, date and reasons not clear?

After a lapse of nine months, I wonder if the collection has had an opportunity to bring together all its De Wints and Robsons for a compare and contrast session, as proposed?

In the meantime, I reiterate my earlier statement that the entry in the Manchester typescript catalogue appears to have been misinterpreted. After all, the relevant paragraph of text there opens by stating that the watercolour in question 'is probably identifiable with' the ‘Neath Abbey, with the Copper Works, Glamorganshire’, exhibited at the Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1825 (no.106). In other words, the probability or lack of absolute certainty concerns whether this particular watercolour was the one hung and catalogued as no.106 in that exhibition, but not its authorship. The final sentence in the manuscript entry states simply that the ‘technique strongly resembles that of G.F. Robson’ -- implying a similarity but not that the watercolour is actually by Robson. And I go along with Pieter's suggestion re Hammond Smith's attributional qualification: it is more than likely that Smith was just echoing doubts in Manchester arising from that manuscript catalogue.

For stylistic and circumstantial reasons, as argued a year ago, I do not believe that this watercolour can be by George Fennel Robson.

Kieran Owens,

As it has not yet been referenced, it might be worth noting that, as reported in the Liverpool Mercury of Wednesday 4th October 1871, a drawing entitled "Neath Abbey" by De Wint was offered for sale by auction by Messrs. Walker & Ackerley at their gallery in Church Street. I mention this in case there are any auctions labels on the frame that might help confirm the identify of the work.

Kieran Owens,

Additionally, on page 274 of La Belle Assemblée or Court and Fashionable Magazine, for the period of June 1825, the review of the Society of Painters in Watercolours exhibition states that 'Dewint's (sic) "Neath Abbey" (106) possesses a fine broad solemnity of effect.' Meanwhile, The Examiner of 29th May 1825, records that Mr. Dewint (sic) was exhibiting a work of rare harmony entitled "Newnham and Neath Abbey".

In a more detailed description, from 'The Circulator of Useful Knowledge (No. XIX, of Saturday 7th May 1825)', the review of De Wint's contribution to the 21st season of the Water-Colour Exhibition, which commenced on Monday 25th April, reads as follows: "'Neath Abbey' reflects much credit on Dewint's (sic) taste in the tranquil style of landscape. The sheet of water over which the eye passes to the abbey, in the mid-distance, is beautifully tinted, and the surrounding scenery is finely combined in its colouring. The modesty of nature is observed throughout; and the aggregate effect is sweetly calm and reposing." (See attached).

Is it not strange that there is no mention at all of the belching foundry/iron works to the left of the scene? Could this feature have been added in at a later date by De Wint, or even by another hand?

Finally, contributors to this discussion might enjoy the attached poetic description of De Wint's painting style. It was featured in John Clare's 1835 collection entitled "The Rural Muse".

Many thanks, Kieran, for those press comments relating to De Wint's 1825 exhibit: they are certainly compatible with the Manchester watercolour. As the title of no 106 included reference to the copper works at Neath Abbey, we must assume that they featured -- in some way -- in the exhibited work. It is possible that De Wint could have enhanced their presence at a later stage, perhaps by making the smoke more dramatic and noteworthy. However, it is equally likely that the contemporary critics simple saw what they wanted to see -- just as most landscape painters at the time of the Industrial Revolution seemed capable of ignoring manifestations of that revolution in the world around them.

I hope Manchester can come to a conclusion on this: all the documentary evidence is pointing at De Wint and, given the history of the site, its a drawing which which represents a significant meeting between late romantic/picturesque sensibility and the process of rural industrialization. The Clare sonnet is a bonus which I didn't know, so thanks for that too.

Kieran Owens,

In the introduction to this discussion, Manchester Art Gallery make the following statement:

"Provenance: During the period below the work was considered a de Wint. John Graham of Lincoln, his sale, Christies, 5th May 1894 (43): Bought Agnews; sold to Dr Lloyd Roberts, 19th December, 1894; his bequest to the gallery in 1920."

According to the sales listings for Peter de Wint in Algernon Graves' Art Sales (Volume 1, page 221), the full entry for the Christies sale of 'Neath Abbey' reads thus:

"1894, May 5 - Christies - John Graham - 43 - Neath Abbey - Drawing - 16&1/2" x 31" - Agnew - £68/5/6"

Perhaps I am making a grievous error in my calculations but the dimensions of this sale's drawing do not accord with the Manchester Art Gallery's work, which is given above in the information panel as 65cm x 120 [E] cm, which roughly equals 25&1/2" x 47&1/4"

Unless the [E] above has some bearing on the matter, Manchester Art Gallery's drawing is larger in both dimensions than the 1894 work sold at Christies and, unless the former measurement includes the frame and the latter does not, they cannot, surely, be the same work.

Dr Lloyd Roberts might well have left this discussion's work to Manchester Gallery in 1920, but how could he have bought it, as a significantly smaller work, from Agnew, which was sold to them by John Graham through Christies in 1894?

A well-spotted discrepancy, Kieran. However, Manchester's manuscript catalogue gives the dimensions as 42 x 77.5 cm or 16 1/2 x 30 1/2 in. The (E) qualifying the measurements given on ArtUK I take to mean an estimate and presumably they include the frame. Otherwise the Manchester watercolour would be a very large work indeed. It would be good to have clarification from the collection about this and to hear from them in any case!

The auction sale price in 1894 -- given by Graves as £ 68 5 0 -- would have been 65 guineas.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Measured just now the dimensions of the work are H42.5cm x W78.5cm
The curator at the Gallery has been delayed in comparing our other works by De Wint against this due to access to the works being blocked by building works. Apologies for this but it is still planned and an update will follow.

Osmund Bullock,

I quite understand why sizes of artworks, particularly mounted watercolours, sometimes have to be estimated; but I am a bit alarmed to learn that some of the measurements (estimated or not) on Art UK may include the frame. I'd assumed the size was noted at the time the picture was photographed, but perhaps that's wrong - do you know anything about this, Edward?

Manchester Art Gallery,

I know that when some of works were photographed it was to time consuming to unframe everything so sight measurements were taken but I'm this was within the frame rather than including the frame. The only reason I can see the frame included measurements appearing is if the owning collection submits this through the portal (but this may be moderated before it appears online).

Manchester Art Gallery,

Due to scattered storage and building works, it has taken us far too long to schedule a curatorial discussion in front of our assembled collection of undisputed watercolours by Robson and de Wint (that is 17 by de Wint and 2 by Robson). However, yesterday afternoon we did so, and we understood the reasoning behind the comment which has led to the reattribution of Neath Abbey to Robson. The foreground is painted in a tighter style than many of our other de Wints, and the indigo shading of the ruins were very similar to The Pass of Glencoe by Robson, which was one of our comparators. Moreover, it seems that Neath Abbey has previously been framed with some very acidic wood, and has had in the past some heavy light exposure. This has distorted the appearance of the work, and might have confused whoever it was in our institution’s past that changed the attribution.
Having said that, we came to the conclusion that the watercolour is by de Wint. The overwhelming evidence produced by the many contributors to this discussion all points towards this, and on stylistic grounds we agree. With many thanks to all who contributed, I suggest that we consider this discussion closed. We will be reverting to the original attribution on our database today, which should update our website shortly.
Hannah Williamson, Curator, Fine Art, Manchester Art Gallery

I am sure we are all delighted that Hannah and her colleagues at Manchester have been able to formally compare their works by De Wint and Robson and their decision must be accepted. As far as this discussion is concerned, I can confirm that the documentary evidence points to de Wint being the more likely author but it has not been possible for the discussion's contributors themselves to reach a consensus on authorship based on the quality of the image available and without first-hand study.