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The Destruction of the Children of Niobe
Private Collection at Ashridge, England
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Destruction of the Children of Niobe
c.1754-55 (undated)
Oil on canvas
125.2 x 174.2 cm
49 5/16 x 68 9/16 in.
Private Collection at Ashridge, England
117
P90A
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, Joseph Vernet. Wilson's stormy setting emphasises the horror of the narrative by the broken trees, reeds bent with the wind, tumultuous seas, the fire in the distant town, the stormy skies, with lightning striking the mountain and the lurid light on the distant horizon.The tree at the left has been struck by the force of the gods' appearance and has broken in two, while reflections of their aura highlight the branches of the tree behind.
Tercentenary 2014 (88)
Commissioned in Rome by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, c. 1754-55; 1st Duke of Sutherland, Stafford House, London; 1st Earl of Ellesmere, Bridgewater House, London; thence by descent
Signed with the initials RW, lower left
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.
D355 Study for Figure for Niobe, National Museum Wales, Cardiff (NMW A 1885)
E69 J.H. Wright after Wilson, Niobe, The British Museum (1860,0211.610) and other impressions
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Pendant: P119A Phaeton's Petition to Apollo, Private Collection
W.G. Constable believed that this was a later elaboration of the design of P90 (Yale Center for British Art), in which coherence has to some extent been lost. But it is more likely the first version of the subject, painted for Bridgewater while Wilson was still in Italy, with his original figures replaced by Placido Constanzi. The substitution certainly applies to the two figures of the gods as a pentiment is visible below Apollo and to his left, which echoes his upraised right arm. The trajectory of the arrow in the back of the foreground figure at the right also suggests that it was fired from a lower angle. There seems to be a pentiment next to the central female figure. Much of the background is close to Vernet, from whom Bridgewater also commissioned four paintings in 1756, (even though Vernet had returned to France in 1755).
BH 271
Borenius 1944; Grant 1945; WGC, pp. 161-63, pl. 20b; Solkin 1982, pp. 201-2, n. 3; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 274; P. Humfrey, 'The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater as a Collector of Old Master Paintings', Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 27, no. 2, 2015, pp. 214, 224, n. 28; P. Humfrey, 'The 2nd Marquess of Stafford and the Stafford Gallery', Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 28, no. 1, 2016, p. 48
In 1808 the painting hung in the ante-room at the newly extended Cleveland House, St James's, along with Turner's Bridgewater Seapiece, as one of the Marquess of Stafford' s relatively few British paintings
Kate Lowry has noted: In a contemporary Maratta frame. Canvas size: 123 x 171.8 cm (48 7/16 x 67 5/8 in.) Painted on a coarse, simple weave linen c. 8-10 threads per sq cm. Stretcher is modern and possibly dates from the relining. Seven members with square mortice joints and provision for keying out. Original bars were approx. 55 mm wide judging by vection cracks at upper edge. The original canvas has been glue relined with original turnovers incorporated on the face of the stretcher. These turnovers are unprimed but edges of original ground are present and its colour is a pale pink/brown, similar to that found in other Roman Wilsons such as P56 Rome from the Villa Madama, YCBA and P64 Rome from the Ponte Molle, National Museum Wales, Cardiff,. Pentimenti around left and central figure groups suggest the figures have been altered and give some substance to the anecdote that Bridgewater had another artist repaint Wilson's figures. Apollo was originally painted considerably lower, which would make more sense of the position of the arrow in the back of the woman at right of foreground. Most of the figures appear to be painted with greater attention to detail than is normal for Wilson.
13/04/2016