George Wilson - A Brief Biography
Throughout his life, George Wilson suffered from a familial gastric disease that was severe enough in his case eventually to cut short his life at the premature age of 41. Although in correspondence to Todhunter he occasionally bemoaned the hindrance that this constantly nagging and debilitating disease caused to his professional artistic progress and achievement, he never complained outwardly about it, and many of his closest associates never realised quite how serious his illness was. It was partly to take advantage of the warmer climes, in which he felt he was better protected from the ravages of the disease, that he spent so much time travelling abroad - principally to his much-loved Italy.
Nonetheless, Wilson's home base - if that is what one can call a domicile that generally appeared to have incorporated domestic lodgings as an entirely incidental adjunct to his studio requirements - remained firmly in London. Certainly during the late 1870s, and probably occasionally during the early 1880s as well, he seems to have shared a studio from time to time with his old friend J.T. Nettleship. Although the latter, being married with a young family by then, restricted his use of such premises purely as a working studio, Wilson apparently found it more logical - and, presumably, cost effective - simply to work and sleep at the same address most of the time.
Predominantly, the recorded addresses of his studio lodgings were in the Hampstead area of north London. Although not among the most sought-after areas of London, it was, nevertheless, becoming quite fashionable at the time, and it certainly seems that Wilson was becoming reasonably able to support himself in these surroundings during the later 1880s. He was presumably therefore selling at least some paintings, and at the time of his death, although he left no will, his financial affairs were fairly neatly balanced at around zero!
George Wilson did not marry, and although there is no record of any particular attachments either, the one woman to whom he was evidently very close was the model who sat to him over many years for the majority of his figurative works - from first outline sketch through to final composition stages. There is no information as to this young woman's name, or anything more about her - except that she was perfectly content to model almost continually for Wilson over a period of at least five to ten years, and almost invariably partially or completely unclothed.
Although there is little further detail recorded about Wilson's latter, and (in artistic terms) increasingly successful days, it is known that he continued to visit his brother every year in Huntly, Aberdeenshire - where he painted so many of his delightful woodland landscapes in watercolour. Indeed, it was ultimately while staying at Castle Park, his brother's house in Huntly, that he became so ill towards the end of 1889 - the final bout of several months of debilitating illness that led to his death some months later on 1st April 1890.
During the last months of Wilson's life, Dr John Todhunter, his lifelong friend and benefactor, renewed with some vigour his attempts at persuading Wilson to agree to the staging of a substantial exhibition of his work. Wilson had always previously dismissed these proposals out of hand, since in his view, how could anyone possibly be interested in such a display? But it seems that he showed less resistance as he became weaker, and although he died before Todhunter could implement his scheme, the seeds were sown with Wilson's family.[i] Nevertheless, it took nearly three years for Todhunter to arrange the first exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery in February 1893. But it took further ten years for Todhunter to achieve the London exhibition that he so greatly desired, when this was staged at the John Baillie Gallery in October 1903.
The only other small exhibition of Wilson's work that has been staged in more recent times was held in 1990, again at the Aberdeen Art Gallery, when just a handful of paintings and other items were shown to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death.[ii]
Biographical synopsis extracted from 'The Lost Pre-Raphaelite - George Wilson; His Life, Work and Associates'. [iii]
[i] Reading University Library, Special Collections: The John Todhunter Papers
[ii] Poetic Vision, Aberdeen Museum and Art Gallery, 9th April to 7th June 1990
[iii] Fanshawe, Robin J H, The Lost Pre-Raphaelite - George Wilson; His Life, Work and Associates, Castle Park Publishing, at www.fanshawe.org.uk, 2007