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The Trustees of the British Museum
William Woollett (1735-1785) after Wilson
Etching and engraving
457 x 532 mm
18 x 21 in.
Landscape with Phaeton and Apollo in the centre. Phaeton kneels before his father, asking permission to drive the chariot of the sun across the heavens for one day. There are nymphs to the right and to left, a flock of sheep and a shepherd on the next hill. The river Styx can be seen behind, a temple to the right and a castle, with the rays of the sun over it.
[An impression] Free Society of Artists, 1763 (246 - Phaeton's suit to Apollo: a proof print)
The narrative comes from the first part of the story as told by Ovid in Metamorphoses, Book 2, ll. 31-102, where Apollo agrees to grant his son, Phaeton, any wish he desires as a proof of paternity. In response Phaeton asks to be allowed to drive his father's chariot across the sky for one day - with disastrous consequences.
P119A Landscape with Phaeton's Petition to Apollo, Private Collection
At the 1763 exhibition of the Free Society of Artists the print was compared unfavourably by Tobias Smollett with George Stubbs's print of the same subject that had been exhibited the previous year. However, as noted by Martin Postle, Smollett did praise Woollett, whose star was rapidly rising: 'The engraver has shown all his art in the sky and in the rays of the sun, which strike over and about the building; and we never before saw the light and shadow so well preserved in any print so very delicately engraved.'
T. Smollett, The Critical Review; or Annals of Literature, vol. 16, London, 1763, p. 314; Booth Notes Doc. 4; Booth Notes Doc. 7; Edwards 1808, p. 88; Fagan 1885, pp. 22-23, cat. LI, 2nd State; Clayton 1997, pp. 198-99