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Meleager and Atalanta
Tate, London 2014
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Meleager and Atalanta
c. 1770 (undated)
Oil on canvas
104.5 x 129.5 cm
41 1/8 x 51 in.
T03366
P163
In the left foreground of a stormy landscape, Atalanta draws her bow to kill the huge boar sent by the goddess Diana to devastate the countryside of Calydon. To the right her lover, Meleager, on horseback, pierces it with his spear. The dramatic lighting, rocky landscape, bending willow and turbulent cascade echo the violent subject-matter and complete the sublimity of the scene.
R.A. Old Masters, 1903 (28 - lent Sir Frederick Cook); Birmingham 1948-49 (13, lent Sir Francis Cook, Bt); London 1949 (12, lent Sir Francis Cook, Bt); Tercentenary 2014 (106)
Robert Sayer (1725-1794); James Sayer (1757-1803); bt c. 1803 by Samuel Rogers (1763-1855); then either Sir Thomas Baring, sold Christie's 2 June 1848 (63), bt Rought; or Joseph Gillott, Edgbaston, Birmingham, sold Christie's, 26 April 1872 (239), bt Cox; certainly Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bart (1817-1901); thence by descent at Doughty House, Richmond to Sir Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook, 4th Bart (1907-1978); with Agnews 1957; Boyd Alexander, Didcot, Oxon.; with F.A. Drey, London, 1971; on loan to the Tate Gallery, London, 1979; bt by the Tate Gallery, 1982
Unsigned; no inscription
The subject is taken from the Roman poet, Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BC - AD 17/18) known as Ovid. The lovers Meleager and Atalanta killed a huge boar sent by the goddess Diana to devastate the countryside of Calydon. Meleager presented the hide to Atalanta but his uncles, the sons of Thestius, took it from her, whereupon he killed them, leading to his own death (Metamorphoses Book VIII, lines 260-546).
D167 Study of an antique Altar, Victoria & Albert Museum, London (Dyce.661)
E23 Richard Earlom after Wilson, Meleager and Atalanta, 1771, The British Museum (2006,U.403) and other impressions
E46 WIlliam Woollett and Benjamin Pouncy after Wilson, Meleager and Atalanta, 1779, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven (B1977.14.14568) and other impressions
E55 William Woollett and Benjamin Pouncy after Wilson, Meleager and Atalanta, 1794, Royal Academy of Arts, London (PL006185) and other impressions
NWD406 Ascribed to John Hamilton Mortimer after Wilson, Meleager and Atalanta
This is a further exposition of Wilson's Grand Manner in landscape - compare for example P157 Ceyx and Alcyone, 1768, National Museum Wales, Cardiff. The work is indebted to the sublime landscapes of the Neapolitan artist, Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), featuring cataclysms and violence, which were much admired by Wilson and his contemporaries. The figures were described by Woollett and Pouncy on their print of 1794 as by John Hamilton Mortimer. He was well known for paintings featuring violent banditti and was employed to 'improve' the figures by the first recorded owner of the painting, the printseller and publisher Robert Sayer, who first published a print after it in 1771 (E23 and other impressions). However, the two groups of figures are out of scale with each other. If the right hand group was painted by Mortimer, as also suggested by a drawing attributed to him in Bolton Museum and Art Gallery (NWD406), the horse seems to be by Wilson himself and one may speculate whether any of the surrounding area, for example the willow, was the work of Mortimer. While the group of Meleager is a classic St George and Dragon composition Robin Smon has noted that the Antique horse, on which Wilson based his, could then be seen among the Niobe sculptures at the Villa Medici in Rome.
Brockwell, M.W.,Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond , vol. 3, 1915, no. 401; WGC, pp. 73, 91, 117, 158, 166-67, pl. 25b; Simon 1979, pp. 437-38, fig. 66; Simon 1981, fig. 28; Wilson and Europe 2014, pp. 287 & 289.
Spots of blood are visible on the boar and the injured foreground figure. The tree in the right foreground is a willow and it bends before the wind, adding to the sublime agitation of the scene.
Dimensions framed: 121 x 146.7 x 10 cm. A light wash or underpaint shows through in the area beyond the waterfall. The sky is yellow overall and the clouds are reinforced with yellow-gold at the edges to the left. Some of the figures' hands and legs seem to have been reinforced by a later hand. Note the pentiment in the figure group at the left, a second outline of a bow is visible to the right of the final one. Visual examination and sampling by Ann Baxter. Kate Lowry has noted: Relined. Original canvas texture has been exaggerated by pressure applied in lining process. Original tacking margins survive. Light beige ground consisting of two layers with intervening size layer. Some wrinkling in paint. Prussian blue found in sky.