William Gilpin About

William Gilpin (4 June 1724 – 1804) was an English artist, Anglican cleric, schoolmaster and author, best known as one of the originators of the idea of the picturesque.

In 1768 Gilpin published his popular Essay on Prints where he defined the picturesque as ‘“that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture” and began to expound his “principles of picturesque beauty”, based largely on his knowledge of landscape painting. During the late 1760s and 1770s Gilpin travelled extensively in the summer holidays and applied these principles to the landscapes he saw, committing his thoughts and spontaneous sketches to notebooks. His influential works The Essays and Observations on the River Wye had a great effect on late 18th-century art, literature, and taste. His works influenced many including William Wordsworth (notably his poem Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey) and Jane Austen).

The fame of Gilpin’s work and his pompous manner (he had famously claimed Tintern Abbey would have been improved by “a mallet judiciously used”) was the subject of the satire by William Combe Tour of Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1809), illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson; in which the poor curate sets off on his straggly mare Grizzle in a quest for picturesque scenery, often (and usually to his discomfort) oblivious to the realities of the world around him.

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