Andrew Wilson

Landscape artist and garden designer | Queen Street Gardens

 

Andrew Wilson (1780-1848) was an eminent Scottish landscape painter.  He studied art in Edinburgh, taught by Alexander Nasmyth, and in London. Living and travelling widely in Italy, he exhibited in Genoa. One of his paintings was admired by Napoleon, who on being told (wrongly) that Wilson was an Englishman, responded 'Le talent n'a pas de pays'. He worked in watercolours and oils, gaining the title of 'the Claude of Nothern Europe'.

Wilson taught drawing at Sandhurst. He was then made Master of Edinburgh's Trustees' Academy in 1818. Some of his pupils there were Robert Scott Lauder, William Simson and David Octavius Hill. Eight years later he returned to Italy for two decades, painting on until 1844, when he lost the use of his right hand. 

His other career was as an art collector and dealer.  In Italy - and particularly in Genoa, where under French adminstration the Ligurian aristocracy were heavily taxed - many great paintings came on the market. They included works by Titian, Bassano, Rubens, Reni and Van Dyck. It is not clear how Wilson evaded customs and blockades. We do know that at one stage he was arrested by the French on suspicion of spying, imprisoned and escaped. But in 1805 he successfully got over 50 paintings to London.

The flow of paintings from Italy to Britain continued for several decades. Many great works in the newly formed National Galleries in London and Edinburgh and in big private houses came through his hands. 

One such private house was Hopetoun Palace. He was working there from 1819, cleaning pictures, teaching drawing and - as adviser to the Earl - modernising the collection. His advice extended to the landscaped grounds.

Back in Edinburgh,  he was commissioned to design two private communal gardens facing south to Queen Street and north to Heriot Row. The more easterly of the two gardens matched the palace front of Heriot Row with miniature landscaped grounds appropriate to a country mansion.  The treed edges, winding paths, a pond standing in for a lake and a very small Doric folly are sustained to this day.

Wilson's painting was helped financially from the fund bequeathed by Peter Spalding of Number 1, Heriot Row.

His eldest son Charles Heath Wilson followed in his father's footsteps.


One of his paintings was admired by Napoleon, who on being told (wrongly) that Wilson was an Englishman, responded 'Le talent n'a pas de pays'.