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Ceyx and Alcyone
National Museum Wales, Cardiff
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Ceyx and Alcyone
c.1768 (undated)
Oil on canvas
101.5 x 127 cm
39 15/16 x 50 in.
NMW A 65
P157
In a dark, stormy landscape, Alcyone and her attendants have just come across the naked body of the drowned Ceyx, which is being pulled from the raging sea. His ship and several others are sinking in the middle and far distance. In the foreground, a burning torch suggests the relics of life but it has been discarded and rests on what seems to be a broken ship's rudder. At the upper left two white birds, into which Ceyx and Alycone have been transformed by the pitying gods, fly away into the sky.
SA 1768 (189 A Storm at Daybreak with the story of Ceyx, Alcyone, Ovid. Metam); Derby 1870 (6); Buenos Aires, Galeries, Witcomb 1950 (118); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (128); Richard Wilson Exhibition, Oriel 31, Davies Memorial Gallery, Newton, Powys, 1991; Tercentenary 2014 (102)
Bought from the artist by the publishers William Wynne Ryland and Henry Bryer; 1780 Christie's, bought James Linnell; [...] by 1870 with Alfred Miller Mundy, Shipley Hall, Derby; Mr W. Grisbrook (1885); [...] 1942 bt by Albert du Vannes, New York; Alberto Baccolini, Buenos Aires, 1950; Sotheby's, 20 Jan. 1965, bt Chiltern Gallery; E.H. Sherwood, Lydiate House, Lydiate Ash, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire; Christie's, 19 June 1970 (36), bt Mason; with Sabin, London; 1979 bt by the National Museum of Wales
Unsigned; no inscription
Kate Lowry has noted: Technical examination revealed a typical double ground layer, cream in colour, with intermediate size layer and a normal range of pigments for Wilson. Infra-red imaging showed up some pentimenti in the tree at lower left. Changes to the composition in the centre of the painting are evidenced by the severe drying cracks in this area which were too dense in the X-radiographs to be legible. A prominent highlight of sienna distinguishes the broken branch of the tree to the right, suggesting a recent hit by lightning.
Stretcher:
[1] T. Rushworth and Son, Carvers and Gilders, Durham
[2] Ink: Large Dr room /
Left of sliding Doors /
m (in red)
[3] Ms: 9211
Frame:
[1] Pencil: 38032
[2] Large typed label relating to Thomas Madox
The source is Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 11, 725. Ceyx was on his way to consult the oracle at Claros when he was shipwrecked. His doting wife, Alcyone, dreamed of the disaster and the next morning she discovered his drowned body being washed ashore. She was so distraught that that the gods took pity on the couple and transformed them into birds.
E20 William Woollett after Wilson, Ceyx and Alcyone, 1769, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven (B1977.14.14567) and other impressions.
J.J. Arvil after Woollett, as by Vernet
William Hodges, HMS Resolution off Cape Stephens with Waterspout , 1776, National Maritime Museum (BHC 1906)
One of a series of tragic narratives from classical mythology executed by Wilson from the 1760s, following his return from Italy. According to William Carey, the artist composed the rocky cliff and tower above by studying a pot of beer set on a 'large decayed cheese'. David Solkin has commented that this is the first example of a subject painting by Wilson commissioned by a dealer (Ryland and Bryer) specifically for reproduction.
Old accession number: 79.19A
Old registration number: 1765
Booth Notes Doc. 5, p. 3; Carey 1809, p. 25; Pilkington (1810 edition), pp. 619-20; Anon., 'Richard Wilson the Landscape Painter', Illustrated Magazine of Art, vol. 1, no. 2 (1853); Bury 1947, pp. 31, 34, 36, 74; WGC, pp. 42, 166, pl. 25a; L. Stainton, 'A Re-Discovered Bas-Relief by Thomas Banks', Burlington Magazine, vol. 116, no. 855 (June 1974), p. 328; Conisbee 1976 [unpaginated]; Solkin 1982, pp. 234-35; Quilley & Bonehill 2004, pp. 113-114, fig. 49; P. Barolsky, Ovid and the Metamorphoses of Modern Art from Botticelli to Picasso , New Haven and London 2014, pp. 213-14; Wilson and Europe 2014 p. 285
Kate Lowry has noted: Original canvas is simple weave linen with c.14 threads per sq. cm. Original turnovers removed at time of relining. Cusping present at all edges and some exposed original ground top and bottom edges means that nothing much has been lost of the original painted area. Damage to original canvas prior to lining has been filled and retouched lower right corner and is visible in X-ray. Lining is onto a coarser weave linen c.11 threads per sq. cm with glue paste adhesive and attachment to stretcher is through lining turnovers with steel tacks. Pine stretcher probably dating from lining. Double layer of cream-coloured ground, with intermediate size layer. Commercially prepared. Thickly painted with a lot of lead white. The complex paint layers found in paint cross-section samples and the strong drying cracks suggest that there was a previous composition. X-ray shows a large reserve for a tower adjacent to the present lighthouse. It is also likely that the right hand figure in the group was a later addition as it overlies thick white paint of the waves. IR shows a pentiment to the fallen tree at lower left corner as well as some overpainted branches in the tree at the right of the composition. Drying cracks extensive in central sky, in waves and figures centre right, in rocky shelf and at centre bottom. Damage to original canvas in rock lower right and damage to lining and original support above and the right of the women both filled and retouched beneath present varnish. Under UV, retouchings to rocks, tree at lower left, outlines of clouds and all figures overlay the varnish.