A master of landscape painting



One of the north’s greatest living landscape painters will feature in a new exhibition in Grasmere in September.

Works by Donald Wilkinson will be on show at the archive gallery at the Heaton Cooper Studio.

Donald Wilkinson was born in Keswick and studied at Carlisle College of Art from 1953-1957 and then at the Royal College of Art, 1959-62, where he was awarded the Andrew J. Lloyd scholarship for Landscape. His work mainly focuses the landscape of the Lake District, and is noted for light effects achieved in the atmospheric landscapes.

He says that he has been looking at and drawing landscapes for as long as he can remember. “All the work in this exhibition is about the Cumbrian landscape – the fells here in the Lakes or the Solway coastline. Both are places I have known all my life. I spend a great deal of time working in the landscape, often returning to the same location over a period of time to watch the changes that the weather and the season have on a particular place.”


Wilkinson says that his early memories are of being taken for walks among the fells or having picnics by the beck in the Mosedale Valley, below Carrock Fell. “This still remains a special place for me where I continue to return to draw. I tend to work in the autumn, winter or early spring and like to find somewhere I can tuck myself away so that I can concentrate on the drawing without being distracted.

“When I begin working in a chosen landscape, I spend time looking, trying to really understand the essence of the place. I make drawings in sketchbooks as I move through the landscape as well as taking photographs and working on larger drawings on location. I work very quickly because for me the important thing is to express the elusiveness of the light either on the land or the water.

“I often make a series of large drawings in the landscape in one session as well as the briefer sketchbook studies. These are sometimes in colour using pastels or watercolours and sometimes in charcoal. Once I am back in the studio, I spread out the results and away from the landscape I will assess the works in their own right.”

For many years Wilkinson worked as a printmaker focusing on making etchings. “I still enjoy the experience of printmaking and some of the works in this exhibition are a combination of monoprint and pastel. I enjoy the directness of the medium, making marks using cotton rag, ends of brushes or fingers before printing on to large sheets of paper. Each one is unique and I enjoy responding to the unexpected happenings integral to printmaking using pastels."

The exhibition is curated by fellow artist Julian Cooper who said: “Donald Wilkinson is now 84 but doing his best work ever, in my opinion. This is going to be a very important show.”

The exhibition opens on Thursday Sept 16 and runs until the end of November.


Here are tributes from noted artists and poets:


What Donald Wilkinson’s skies and many of my own poems have in common is a vision of what I would describe as an epiphanic experience of the natural world, which in itself has something in common with that of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, themselves natives of those same hills and dales in their ever-changing light.

Kathleen Raine, Poet. Forward to catalogue, A Wider Landscape, Wordsworth Trust

I can think of no contemporary artist as observant of the weather, in whom it creates such rapt attention, and whose technical resources are as well adapted to the recreation of its moods.

The landscapes are the underlying timeless element in his pictures but the season in which they are seen and the weather conditions which may be changing with speed are what his paintings record. Whilst it’s crucial to attend to the media that Wilkinson employs and to how he works with them, there is also a danger of distraction in overstressing his technical means. His pictures are a way of keeping close to and entering into the quick of the moment.

He doesn’t go in for what Hopkins in poetry called the Parnassian. There’s an invigorating riskiness in his work, a sense of the artist pitched moment by moment against the fugitive effects of light and colour, seen through wind and light and rain, in momentary calm and sudden turbulence.

Jamie McKendrick, essay for catalogue, A Wider Landscape, Wordsworth Trust

Places, and his relationship with them, are of the utmost significance to Wilkinson. One feels he knows them like the back of his hand or the soles of his walking boots. Yet he is not a “topographical” artist, a kind of illustrator of various visited and explored landmarks, an artist-tourist. His sense of significant place goes deeper. It is in his roots. It is highly individual…………                          

His places hold all kinds of personal memories. In his drawings, however, they have also become places of imagination, regardless of precise definitions of geography or locale. They have a universal meaning to anyone who relishes rocks, waves, snow, sunset, storm clouds, even the bleakness of wild land. And anyone who relishes the scudding, sliding, percussive, slashing, wandering marks on paper that are this painter’s syntax and language. This is where invention and memory as well as observation are involved.

Christopher Andreae, Introduction to Stains of Light catalogue, Tullie House Art Gallery

Most recently, I was fortunate to observe him in action on board the ‘Glen Massan ‘, an Irish fishing boat converted into an ideal vessel for artists wishing to depict the poetic nature of Scotland’s Highland and Islands. We were sailing, along with six other artists, from the Cowal Peninsula towards Arran. He was drawing with charcoal and pastel and totally at ease with the turbulent weather, drawing in perfect harmony and with the currents of sea and air and capturing the elemental forces of nature. He stood balanced and wedded to the boat riding the storm-tossed waters.

Prof. Richard Demarco, Introduction to Solway Shoreline Exhibition

Archive galleryGrasmereHeaton cooper studioJulian cooperLake districtLandscapeLandscape art