Richard Wilson was born near Machynlleth in 1713. He is often called the ‘father’ of landscape painting in Britain. He influenced many of the great artists who came after him, including Turner and Constable. He studied in Italy, where classical artists often painted imaginary landscapes or changed details so that views would be ideal and balanced. However, Wilson was interested in the real landscape, especially when he came home to Wales. He combined the idea of balance with his love of nature.
This painting of Snowdon from the lake at Nantlle is very still and harmonious. It captures the peaceful beauty of the sky and water at the same time as the drama of the rocks and mountains. The composition has vertical and horizontal symmetry. It is not exactly the same from side to side but very similar, a bit like a rhyme in a poem.
- The symmetry between top and bottom is made by the reflections in the lake.
- The line of symmetry between the sides is around a line from the peak of Snowdon to the gap between the hills. This is not at the centre but on the golden section – see Topic XX.
- Things balanced around this line are not the same but they have similar visual weight: the tops of the trees balanced with the clouds, the hills in the middle distance, the bright part of the sky.
- Wilson also made his scene feel so still by designing his composition around a triangle, a shape that artists of the period thought gave a stable base.
Instead of taking your eye to lines running into the picture he has painted the landscape in separate planes – foreground, middle ground and distance.
You will need a whiteboard with internet access.
Zoom in on the details of this painting on Google Art Project.
Can you spot other things that add to the sense of balance in the composition?
- The distant boats line up with the peak.
- The smoke and its reflection create a line down to the woman holding her baby.
- The sunlight catching the smooth hill on the left makes it equal in interest to the rougher hill on the right.
Look up Richard Wilson at ArtUK and see if you can work out how he used balance in other compositions.