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The Destruction of Niobe's Children
Collection of Richard L. Feigen
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Destruction of Niobe's Children
Oil on canvas
45.6 x 61.6 cm
17 15/16 x 24 1/4 in.
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 Sublime setting emphasises the horror of the narrative by the broken trees, reeds bent with the wind, gushing waterfall, the stormy skies and the lurid light on the distant horizon.
London, Tate Gallery 1930 loan exhibition of pictures belonging to Arthur Morrison (no catalogue); Hull 1936 (9); Chicago, Richard L. Feigen & Co., Six Centuries of Myth & Legend, February-April 1988 (31); Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York, 5 April - 1 June 1997, Katonah Collects; New York 2010 (8)
Wynn Ellis; his sale, Christie's London, 6 May1876 (135), bt Agnew, London; Arthur Morrison (1863-1945), High Barn, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire; Sotheby's London, 19-20 March 1946 (251), bt Chilvers; Private Collection; Phillips Son & Neale, London, 11 November 1980 (84), bt Johnny van Haeften, London; Dr Richard Levy, New Orleans; Richard L. Feigen, New York 1982; Sotheby's New York, 18 October 2021 (47)
Unsigned; no inscription
Upper left of canvas, yellow chalk: 100/1 [one hundred over 1]
Lower horizontal member of frame, white chalk: 84 and some illegible letters
[1] Upper horizontal member of stretcher, left corner, old perforated printed label: 13
[2] Left vertical member of stretcher, James Bourlet printed label: B18240
This painting is 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
D280/27 Study of two Herms, Italian Sketchbook, 1754, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, p. 28(r)
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, 1792, 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, USA
The status of P90E is uncertain. It has been suggested that it is a finished oil-study for P90B, the destroyed Beaumont/National Gallery version, but Wilson is not otherwise known to have made preliminary studies in oil on canvas. It is more likely to have been a reduced replica of P90B made to facilitate the engraving of E52 by William Sharp and Samuel Smith, to which its compositional details and dimensions correspond. As the engraving was not published until 1788, six years after Wilson's death, this possibility would raise some interesting questions as to the authorship of P90E.
J. Spence, Polymetis, Book 2, London 1747, pp. 96-100 and 111; Feigen 2010 unpaginated, cat. 8
Arthur Morrison (1863-1945) was a mystery/detective/social realism author, and a collector of and writer on Japanese Art.
Dimensions framed: 64.8 x 77.5 cm (25 1/2 x 30 1/2 in.). Relined.