1 Item No items selected
The Destruction of Niobe's Children
Private Collection, Devon
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Destruction of Niobe's Children
c.1760 (undated)
Oil on canvas
45.8 x 61.9 cm
18 x 24 3/8 in.
Private Collection, Devon
P90E
Eleven of Niobe's children are killed in a dramatic, lightning-filled landscape, which owes much to the influence of Gaspard Dughet and to a lesser extent, Claude-Joseph Vernet. Wilson's Sublime setting emphasises the horror of the narrative by the broken trees, reeds bent with the wind, gushing waterfall, the stormy skies and the lurid light on the distant horizon.
London, Tate Gallery 1930 loan exhibition of pictures belonging to Arthur Morrison (no catalogue); Hull 1936 (9); Chicago, Richard L. Feigen & Co., Six Centuries of Myth & Legend, February-April 1988 (31); Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York, 5 April-1 June 1997, Katonah Collects; New York 2010 (8)
Arthur Morrison (1863-1945), High Barn, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire; Sotheby's London, 19-20 March 1946 (251), bt Chilvers; Private Collection; Phillips Son & Neale, London, 11 November 1980 (84), bt Johnny van Haeften, London; Dr Richard Levy, New Orleans; Richard L. Feigen, New York 1982; Sotheby's New York, 18 October 2021 (47), where acquired by present owner
Unsigned; no inscription
Upper left of canvas, yellow chalk: 100/1 [one hundred over 1]
Lower horizontal member of frame, white chalk: 84 and some illegible letters
Verso:
[1] Upper horizontal member of stretcher, left corner, old perforated printed label: 13
[2] Left vertical member of stretcher, James Bourlet printed label: B18240
This painting is inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book 6, lines 144-312. Niobe, daughter of Tantalus and Queen of Thebes, is punished for having dared to suggest, because she had seven sons and seven daughters, that she was superior to the goddess Leto (or Latona). Apollo and Artemis, children of Leto, killed all of Niobe's offspring in revenge and she herself wept until she was turned into stone.
D53/35 Niobe from An Italian Sketchbook Victoria & Albert Museum Sketchbook p. 35
D280/27 Study of two Herms, Italian Sketchbook, 1754, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, p. 28(r)
D325 The Children of Niobe, The British Museum
D355 Recumbent Male Nude, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
D369 Ascribed to Wilson, Landscape Study, Victoria & Albert Museum
E52 William Sharp and Samuel Smith after Wilson, Niobe, 1788, National Museum Wales, Cardiff (NMW A 11416)
E54 William Sharp and Samuel Smith after Wilson Niobe, 1792, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven
E54A William Sharp and Samuel Smith after Wilson, Niobe, 1792, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
E58 William Sharp and Samuel Smith after Wilson, Niobe, 1803, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (1577/3)
E79/1 Samuel Lacey after Wilson, Niobe, The British Museum
E79/3 John Charles Varrall after Wilson, Niobe, The National Gallery, No. 1
E86 William James Linton after Wilson, Niobe, The British Museum
See 'Links' tab
[1] Gaspard Dughet, The Cascade, late 1660s, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
[2] William Hodges (1744-1797) after Wilson, Niobe, graphite, brown and white chalk, 370 x 425 mm, ex-Paul Sandby collection, Christie's 12 December 1981 (40i). Location unknown.
[3] Jacques-Louis David, Apollo and Diana attacking the Children of Niobe, 1772, Dallas Museum of Art, USA
The status of P90E is uncertain. It has been suggested that it is a finished oil-study for P90B, the destroyed Beaumont/National Gallery version, but Wilson is not otherwise known to have made preliminary studies in oil on canvas. It is more likely to have been a reduced replica of P90B, possibly made to facilitate the engraving of E52 by William Sharp and Samuel Smith. However that engraving was not published until 1788, six years after Wilson's death. The style of the painting, now much more visible as a result of its recent conservation, suggests a date in the late 1750s or round 1760, i.e. when P90B was in course of execution.
J. Spence, Polymetis, Book 2, London 1747, pp. 96-100 and 111; Feigen 2010 unpaginated, cat. 8
Arthur Morrison (1863-1945) was a mystery/detective/social realism author, and a collector of and writer on Japanese Art.
Kate Lowry noted, 24 February 2022:
Support: The original simple weave linen canvas, medium weight, has been lined onto a similar canvas with animal glue adhesive. At the time of this treatment the original turnover edges were removed and attachment to the stretcher is now through lining turnovers by means of tacks. The lining turnover is in good condition and attachment to the stretcher is secure. Adhesion between original and lining canvases is good.
Accessory Support: A four-member pine stretcher with mortice joints and provision for keying out by means of a single key at each corner. Dimension of members: 55 x 15 mm., with slight bevel towards the inside edge of each member. The design of the stretcher suggests that it is is not original, but dates from the 19th century, possibly to the time of the lining treatment. It is in good condition, with all four keys present. A James Bourlet label on the stretcher reverse reads 'B18240'.
Ground/priming: A smooth, pale cream-coloured ground preparation is visible beyond the paint layers at the edges of the canvas. This suggests it was a colourman's preparation and that the missing turnovers were originally covered by this ground. It is most likely to be an oil ground. The ground is in good condition with no obvious flaking; any losses are, as for paint film, mentioned below.
Paint film: Oil medium with some strongly brushed impasto in the light areas of the sky and the waterfall. The whole paint film is opaquely applied with no transparent areas; all of the image is clear and detailed. The paint film is generally in sound condition. Vection cracks are present, indicating the inside edges of the present stretcher members, and there are some mature cracks in the central, light area of the sky which have been lightly retouched. Under UV light a major loss is visible along the upper edge of the sky towards the left of the composition, now filled and retouched. There is a smaller filled loss visible in the robe of the kneeling woman in the foreground. There are also some minor retouches in the large rock in the middle ground to the right of centre and in the rocks on the near side of the waterfall.
Surface film: The painting has recently been cleaned by Stuart Sanderson, removing surface dirt and a yellowed varnish layer. The painting was then revarnished and retouched.
27/04/2022