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Landscape with Phaeton's Petition to Apollo
Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool / The Bridgeman Art Library
Richard Wilson and Studio
Landscape with Phaeton's Petition to Apollo
1763-67 (undated)
Oil on canvas
228.6 x 223.5 cm
90 x 88 in.
WAG 1999.58
P119
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. On each side of Phaeton are his weeping sisters, who were afterwards turned into poplars. The river Clytumnus can be seen behind and there are a temple (right) and a castle (left), silhouetted against a glowing, rosy dawn.
BI 1856 (123, lent W.E.Gladstone); Leeds 1868 (1193 - Landscape - Sunset, lent the Right Hon. W.E. Gladstone); Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Pictures from Ince Blundell Hall, 3-30 April, 1960, (8)
Commissioned 1763 by Henry Blundell for the drawing room of Ince Blundell Hall, near Liverpool; his son, Charles Blundell; given to Sir John Gladstone, Bart, of Fasque, Kincardine, Scotland, executor of Charles Blundell's will; his son, W.E. Gladstone, Prime Minister, of 6 Carlton House Terrace, London; bought back for Ince in 1875 (£500); Mrs Montagu, Ince Blundell Hall; Col. Sir Joseph W. Weld (1909-1992), Lulworth Manor, Wareham, Dorset; William Joseph Weld (1934-2016); 1999 allocated to the Walker Art Gallery by H.M. Government, to which it was offered in lieu of inheritance tax.
Unsigned; no inscription
The subject is taken from the first part of the story as told by Ovid in Metamorphoses, Book 1, lines 747- end and Book 2, lines 1-149. Phaeton petitioned his father, Apollo, God of the Sun, to let him drive his chariot across the sky for one day. Apollo, however, rightly feared that Phaeton would be unable to control the chariot and indeed, he began to plummet to earth. To save the world from catastrophe, Jupiter was forced to destroy him with a thunderbolt, though not before he had burned up huge swathes of the earth's surface. His sisters, seen here in consternation at the left and right, were turned to trees.
E12 Williiam Woollett after Wilson, Phaeton, 1763, The British Museum and other impressions
E66 William Pengree Sherlock after Wilson, Phaethon, The British Museum (1878,0511.622) and other impressions
Charles Victor Normand (fils) after Wilson, Phaeton, current location unknown
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P71A Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli
P127 The Lake of Nemi or Speculum Dianae with Dolbadarn Castle
P142 Tivoli: The Temple of the Sibyl and the Campagna - I
Claude Lorrain, Hagar and the Angel, National Gallery, London
One of four paintings commissioned by Henry Blundell for Ince Hall and painted between 1763 and 1767 with the help of assistants including Joseph Farington. Farington states that the pictures were 'painted while I was with Him [Wilson] & were prepared and far advanced towards finishing by his pupils, but Wilson went over and regulated them.' This fixes their date of execution between 17 June 1763, when Farington entered Wilson's studio and 1767, when he apparently left. In a diary entry of 28 October 1796 Farington stated 'Wilson was at Ince & saw Mr. Blundells rooms before He painted the 4 pictures. Three are upright and one square form. - Penny reccomended [sic] Wilson to Mr. Blundell.' A Liverpool picture dealer, Vernon, told Farington that Wilson offered to paint them for 50 guineas each but Blundell paid him 70 guineas. The character of the series as a whole reflects Henry Blundell's strong interest in the antique.
Samuel Heinrich Spiker, Librarian to the King of Prussia, recorded the painting and its companions on a visit to Ince Blundell in 1816: 'The room in which we took our wine after dinner, was ornamented with five [sic] beautiful landscapes, of the celebrated English landscape panter, Wilson, which, during his residence in Italy, he had executed for Mr Blundell. They are all attached to the wall as decorations, and contain views of the country in the vicinity of Rome, Florence, &c.' As W.G. Constable suggested, this was perhaps also the picture seen by Waagen at the house of William Gladstone, M.P., 'A landscape, which for size, beauty of composition, powerful effect and careful rendering, may be considered one of his [Wilson's] chief works.' P119 is among the largest and most ambitious works paintings by Wilson and the commission was one of his most important. The composition, however, was based on P119A, probably exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1763. Kidson has noted that Woollett's engraving (E12), reversing the design, was also published in 1763 and that 'it is tempting to suppose that Wilson reversed the design of' P119 'too, in order to enable his pupils to make direct use of the engraving.'
Farington Diary, vol. 3, p. 683 (28 October 1796) & vol. 7, pp. 2796-97 (26 June 1806); H. Blundell, An Account of the Statues and Paintings at Ince, 1803, p. 225, no. XLIV - A Summer's Evening; Spiker 1820, vol. I, p. 314; Wright 1824, pp. 101-2; Hazlitt 1843-44, vol. 1, pp. 184-85 (a version); Waagen 1857, p. 153, Letter III, Mr Gladstone's Collection: 'A landscape which, for size, beauty of composition, powerful effect and careful rendering, may be considered one his [Wilson's] chief works'; WGC, pp. 43, 72, 89-90, 116, 163-64, pl. 22a; Kidson 2012, pp. 262-64
Farington observed that Wilson received the commission via another painter, Edward Penny. However, it may also owe something to Blundell's wife, Elizabeth Mostyn, of the Flintshire Mostyns, to whom Wilson was related through his mother. Henry Blundell described P119 as 'a fancy-piece, taken from one that he painted at Rome for the Duke of Bridgewater [P119A], in whose possesssion it is, and from which there are prints.'
When acquired by the Walker Art Gallery in 1999, the picture was in generally sound condition, though suffering from minor flaking. It was lined by Helen Brett and cleaned by Sheila Walthew. Two large paint losses were retouched left and right of centre. The liquid sky is typically Wilsonian but note that the trees to the left are not painted into reserves, perhaps so as to preserve the delicate pink effect of the sky.
12/12/2019