The topographical character that dominated English landscape painting in the eighteenth century is illustrated in two paintings by William Marlow recently purchased through the Dunwoody Fund. Although these are Continental scenes, they reveal the passion for natural detail exhibited in most paintings of the eighteenth-century English countryside.The paintings are companion pieces, depicting a river scene that Marlow must have come across during his travels in France or Italy. The view illustrated on this page was painted from the shore, and shows a broad sweep of the river before it disappears around a sharp bend spanned by an arched stone bridge. A series of rolling hills beyond marks the further course of the river.In the right foreground a group of houses and a watchtower lie close to a wooded bluff crowned with a large castle. Men and women stroll back and forth along the shore, chatting or watching the boatmen on the river. On the immediate left a flight of steps leads down from a house before which a woman is washing clothes.The companion picture is painted looking down the river instead of up, and if not the same scene is a strikingly similar one. Again, on the left this time, is a high bluff with a walled castle on top and a group of red-roofed houses below. On the slopes of the hills in the background are other large houses of the type so common in southern Europe.On the river itself there is the leisurely sort of activity that leads one to believe this is a Sunday scene. The warm sunlight, the smoothly flowing water, the shadows, and the shimmering reflection of the white houses all have that Sunday feel.These are pleasant and, for the most part, convincing landscapes. The hills and the sky are spacious and serene; the shadows under the bridge inviting. In such passages Marlow seems to be an exact and painstaking artist. He was not great any more than Hannan, who painted the Institute’s views of Wycombe Park, was great, but he had been trained to render faithfully what he saw, and that training served him well.Marlow was born in England in 1740. He studied with Scott, who is especially known for his marine paintings and who was himself a follower of Canaletto. This association accounts for the otherwise puzzling similarity of Marlow’s figures to those of Canaletto; a similarity strongly apparent in the two paintings above.Marlow must have achieved a considerable degree of success during his lifetime, for he exhibited frequently at Spring Gardens, and in 1788 began to exhibit at the Academy. He was last shown there in 1807, when he was represented by Twickenham Ferry by Moonlight.
He began his career by painting views of noblemen’s country houses. Later he became especially interested in river views, and painted many scenes along the lower Thames, at Richmond, and at Twickenham.The Institute’s paintings, originally in a private collection in Twickenham, are now on view in gallery C-7.Referenced Works of Art
- Continental River Landscape by William Marlow, English, 1740-1813
One of a pair purchased from the Dunwoody Fund