Goodrich Castle on the Wye
The ruins of Goodrich Castle sit perched on a hill near the center of the piece. Three boats full of people, ostensibly tourists, row down the river which bends sharply to the left. The central hill is flanked by a smaller hill on the left and a larger hill on the right. It appears that both the right and center hills are wooded, while the left hill is not. Two thin columns of smoke rise from the cover of trees on the center hill. The sky is mostly clear, with some clouds above the left hill, and the river is calm.
Copyright, 2009, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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Associated EventsThe Wye Tour and the Picturesque
Thomas Hearne created this work during the peak of the Wye Tour’s popularity. Not surprisingly, the painting is concerned with an accurate portrayal of the picturesque qualities of the scene—primarily the contrast in size between the people and the hills, as well as the juxtaposition of the man-made with the natural (e.g., the boats with the river, the castle with the forest). Since this painting was made before Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed . . . above Tintern Abbey, etc.” was first published (1798), it is not entirely surprising that the painter seems unconcerned with the effect this picturesque scene has on the individual. Rather, it is a more straightforward, “topographical drawing” (Fenwick) of the scene that Gilpin described as “correctly picturesque” (Gilpin 18). Malcolm Andrews notes that this description is “very high praise from the fastidious Gilpin” and also comments that Hearne augments the picturesque qualities of the scene by adding “little plumes of smoke” (In Search of the Picturesque 90, 94).
Associated PlacesGoodrich Castle
Built c. 1160-1170 on a riverbank high above the River Wye, the keep is the oldest part of the castle. The gatehouse was completed around 1300; relatively soon afterwards, the castle fell into ruination. Goodrich Castle, “Boosom’d high in tufted Trees” (Gilpin 19), formed “the first great spectacle” of the tour (Andrews, In Search of the Picturesque 90), and earned Gilpin’s praise as “correctly picturesque” since it was such “a very grand view” (Gilpin 17-18). Goodrich Castle was located just before New Weir and the massive rock Symonds Yat (which rose 470 feet above the river), about 3 miles downriver from the launch-point at Ross-on-Wye. As the first great spectacle of the tour, Goodrich Castle helped set the tone for the picturesque scenes to come.
Associated TextsObservations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770 by William Gilpin (1782)
The Banks of Wye: a Poem in Four Books by Robert Bloomfield (1811)
Bloomfield, famous for his semi-autobiographical poem The Farmer’s Boy (1800), took a ten day tour of the Wye Valley during a period in his life marked by personal and professional turmoil. The tour rejuvenated him, and the versification of his travel journal eventually became The Banks of Wye: a Poem in Four Books (Kaloustian). The poem is primarily significant for two reasons. First, and most obviously, it addresses the scenery and spectacles of the Wye Tour, giving the reader a good idea of what to expect on such a tour. Second, it follows the decidedly Wordsworthian example of examining the effects of that scenery on the self. Passages like the following endow the scenery with the ability to affect humans:
Till bold, impressive, and sublime,Note how the ruins of Goodrich Castle are capable of telling “noble truths,” a direct interaction that Gilpin et alia would have either not noticed or summarily dismissed. Other passages focusing on the direct effect of natural images on the viewer include the following:Gleam’d all that’s left by storms and timeOf GOODRICH TOWERS. The mould’ring pileTells noble truths,—but dies the while.(Bloomfield 1.149-52)
Then CHEPSTOW’S ruin’d fortress caughtandThe mind’s collected store of thought,A dark, majestic, jealous frownHung on his brow, and warn’d us down.(Bloomfield 2.315-18)
TINTERN, thy name shall hence sustainThe first of these passages features not only personification of Chepstow Castle, but also describes the ruins’ ability to catch “the mind’s collected store of thought,” as well as its capacity to “warn” viewers. This warning is likely related to mortality, given the nearby mention of the “setting sun” (Bloomfield 2.313), a typical symbol of waning life. The second passage also utilizes one of the Wye Tour’s most famous spectacles (Tintern Abbey) to illustrate scenery’s ability to influence the viewer. The mere name of the Abbey is enough to call to the poet’s mind “a thousand raptures,” some of which included “priest[s] or king[s]” (2.124), “some BLOOD-STAIN’D warrior’s ghost” (2.125), or “grass-grown mansions of the dead” (2.114). The capacity of Nature to wreak such significant alterations in a viewer’s psyche runs diametrically opposed to the strictly evaluative eye of the picturesque tourist, and embodies a decidedly post-“Lines” worldview.A thousand raptures in my brain;Joys, full of soul, all strength, all eye,That cannot fade, that cannot die.(Bloomfield 2.131-34)
SubjectThis image features a view of Goodrich Castle from the river Wye, and so recreates for us the perspective of the tourists depicted in the boats on the river. The work aims to recreate its subject in "topographical" detail (Fenwick); this aspiration suggests that the natural scene itself, deemed "correctly Picturesque" by William Gilpin, rendered improvisation unnecessary (Gilpin 7).
ThemeRuin. River. Picturesque. Goodrich Castle. Castle. Wye.
SignificanceThis work is not so much an examination of the effects of the picturesque on a human subject as it is a topographical recreation of a striking scene. It should not be surprising, then, that the painting was executed before Wordsworth published his “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye Valley During a Tour, July 13, 1798," and thus before the subsequent “new phase in man’s relationship with the natural world” (Andrews, In Search of the Picturesque 86). Consequently, we can safely align Hearne's piece more with Gilpin’s analytical interests than with Wordsworth’s tendency to champion personal examination over natural detail; later Romantic concerns about the impact of the scene on the viewer are not deeply explored. Instead, the work aims to create a sense of general awe in the viewer by introducing sublime imagery in the sheer, objective size of the cliffs, emphasized by the relatively small size of the human figures in the boats. Beginning with this difference in size, the work further piques the viewer’s interest by creating contrast in shapes and colors; such contrast is the hallmark of the Romantic notion of the picturesque, a key innovation of Romantic visual culture. The picturesque is also represented in this work through images which contrast the natural and human worlds by means of their interaction: the smoke issuing from the forest; the woods overgrowing the castle ruins; and the tourists navigating the river.
BibliographyAndrews, Malcolm. “Gilpin, William (1724–1804).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 28 Mar. 2009.
---. In Search of the Picturesque. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1989. Print.
Barbier, C.P. William Gilpin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1963. Print.
Bloomfield, Robert. The Banks of Wye: a Poem. In Four Books. London, 1811. Print.
Fenwick, Simon. “Hearne, Thomas (1744–1817).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 29 Mar. 2009.
Gilpin, William. Observations on the River Wye. 1782. Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1991. Print. Revolution and Romanticism, 1789-1834.
Mersey, Daniel. "Goodrich Castle." The Castles of Wales Website. Jeffrey L. Thomas, 2009. Web. 22 Aug. 2013.
Michasiw, Kim I. "Nine Revisionist Theses on the Picturesque." Representations 38 (1992): 76-100. Print.
Moir, Esther. The Discovery of Britain; The English Tourists. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1964. Print.