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Phaeton
Royal Academy of Arts, London
William Woollett (1735-1785) after Wilson
Phaeton
Published 3 September 1763
Etching and engraving
583 x 584 mm
22 15/16 x 23 in.
PL006189
E12B
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 left, a flock of sheep and a shepherd on the next hill. The river Styx can be seen behind and there is a temple and castle, with the rays of the sun over it.
Free Society of Artists, 1763 (246 - Phaeton's suit to Apollo: a proof print); London 2012 (unnumbered)
Acquired by 1821
Lettered below the image:
[1] Upper left: Richard Wilson Pinxit.
[2] Upper centre: J. Boydell excudt.
[3] Upper right: William Woollett sculpsit.
[4] Lower centre: PHAETON / In the Collection of his Grace the Duke of Bridgewater / Published according to Act of Parliament by J. Boydell Engraver in Cheapside, London Septr. 3d. 1763.
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; Edwards 1808, p. 88; Fagan 1885, pp. 22-23, cat. LI, 5th State
Conserved by Emma Cox 2012