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The Destruction of Niobe's Children
ex-National Gallery; destroyed 1944
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Destruction of Niobe's Children
c.1760 (undated)
Oil on canvas
116.8 x 167.6 cm
46 x 66 in.
ex-National Gallery; destroyed 1944
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 stormy setting emphasises the horror of the narrative by the broken trees, reeds bent with the wind, tumultuous seas, the stormy skies, with lightning striking the mountain and the lurid light on the distant horizon.
BI 1814 (165/169 - Niobe); London. International Exhibition 1862 (62); London 1925 (51); Manchester 1925 (60)
Joseph Wilton, sculptor (d. 1803); bt by Sir George Beaumont, Bart; presented by him to the National Gallery, London, 1826; destroyed by enemy action, 1944
This painting was 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
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, 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
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[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, USALocation unknown.
J. Spence, Polymetis, Book 2, London 1747, pp. 96-100 and 111; Booth Notes Doc. 5, p. 1; Edwards 1808, pp. 79, 82-86; Catalogue 1814, p. 20; Smith 1828,vol. 1, p. 139; Hazlitt 1843-44, vol. 1, p. iii, no. 110; Cook & Wedderburn, vol. 4, p. 308; Whitley 1800-1820, p. 183; Borenius 1944; Grant 1945; Waterhouse 1953, p. 176, pl. 142; WGC, pp. 42, 87, 160-63, pl. 18; J. Ziff, 'Backgrounds: Introduction of Architecture and Landscape: A Lecture by J.M.W. Turner', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute, vol. 26, 1963, pp. 146-47; Sutton & Clements 1968, vol. 2, p. 13, fig. 14
In a lecture given as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy on 12 February 1811, J.M.W. Turner remarked, 'In vain did [Wilson's] pictures of Niobe in possession of Sir George Beaumont and the Duke of Gloucester flash conviction of his powers.'