William Gilpin: the artist and cleric
The Reverend William Gilpin (1724 – 1804) devoted his life to improving the conditions of his parishioners after becoming Vicar of Boldre.
By the time he acquired the vicarage in 1777, he had achieved great success in several different spheres: as a writer, artist, clergyman and schoolmaster. He was also an originator of the idea of ‘the picturesque’, which he had developed from travelling extensively around the country and sketching the landscapes he saw.
‘The picturesque’ was a set of rules for depicting nature, which was not thought capable of creating the perfect composition. Instead the artist was required to help nature along, perhaps by adding a carefully placed tree.
William Gilpin’s travel notebooks proved popular with the new generation of British travellers who toured continental Europe with their sketchbooks towards the end of the 18th century.
While living in the New Forest he published more sketches and thoughts in Remarks on Forest Scenery, and Other Woodland Views, as well as publishing sermons and works on moral and religious subjects.
He improved conditions in his parish by supporting a project for a new poor house. He held enlightened views on educating and disciplining the young, and personally built and provided an endowment for a parish school that now bears his name. He used the proceeds from his writing and an auction of his original drawings to fund more good works.
You can see a monument commemorating his long and productive life in the Church of St John, Boldre. His tomb is in the churchyard there.