In the late 1930s Routledge & Kegan Paul (RKP) began to commission a series of monographs concerning English Master Painters. Work began almost immediately on two volumes: Bonington (by Shirley) and Reynolds (by Waterhouse). In 1938, Constable approached RKP with the proposal to produce a volume on Wilson. This was to be a co-authored work which - according to the proposal documentation - would include biographical information; a full catalogue raisonee of paintings; plates; list of owners and an index of titles. The proposal was accepted and in November 1938 a contract was signed between RKP, Constable and Charles Crehore Cunningham (then Assistant Curator of paintings, Boston Museum of Fine Arts), giving the date of submission for the manuscript as to be on or before 1 December 1939. Constable and Cunningham began work immediately but publication was postponed following the outbreak of the Second World War. In a letter dated 16 October 1939, Herbert Read, who sat on the Board of Directors of RKP and was responsible for editing the English Master Painters series, wrote to Constable that 'we should like you to go ahead with the Wilson volume, though in the circumstances we shall not insist upon the delivery of the manuscript at the specific time'.
When the United States entered into the War in 1941, work on the Wilson volume ceased almost entirely. It was not until 1947 that Constable was able to report to Herbert Read 'I've now got back to Wilson and am working hard upon him'. In the same letter, dated 27 January 1947, he also declared that he had a new schema for the book which included the following elements:
-list of dated pictures
-reproductions of paintings in the following groups - portraits, English paintings before the journey to Italy; Italian subjects; English subjects; Welsh subjects
-reproductions of doubtful and misattributed pictures
-catalogue of the paintings, giving histories etc.
-index of subjects
-index of owners
This new arrangement was necessary because the material required to compile a catalogue raisonee was found to be not readily available. In fact, during the course of Constable's research (as he explains in the introduction to the Wilson publication), many new examples had come to light; authenticity had to be completely reconsidered; dating proved problematic and published biographies were found to be inaccurate. The files reflect this new focus, the contents of the majority concerning the provenance and authenticity of individual works. A significant number are also concerned with biographical research.
The Wilson volume was finally published in 1953 as a single authored text (Cunningham's contribution having been limited due to his activities as Lieutenant Commander with the US Navy during the War and his subsequent appointment as director of the Wadsworth Athanaeum). Publicity material from this time describes the text as 'the first thorough and scholarly work on Richard Wilson' which provides 'a corpus of Wilson's portraits, subject pieces and landscapes with all the available facts about them and about his life'. [A copy of Constable, W.G. (1953) Richard Wilson. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul is available in the Paul Mellon Centre library, see URL below].
Following publication, Constable continued to research and collect material concerning the artist. This work lead him him to identify a number of additional definite and probable Wilson paintings. He summarised the most significant findings in two articles published in the Burlington magazine in 1954 and 1962.