Phaeton's Petition to Apollo

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Phaeton's Petition to Apollo
Phaeton's Petition to Apollo
Phaeton's Petition to Apollo
Private Collection / Christie's Images Limited 2014
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Phaeton's Petition to Apollo
c.1754-55 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 124.5 x 176.5 cm
Imperial: 49 x 69 1/2 in.
Private Collection
Wilson Online Reference
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, while Apollo gestures towards the significantly clouded setting sun. On either side are Phaeton's five weeping sisters, who were afterwards turned into poplars. There are a flock of sheep and a shepherd on the next hill. A temple and broad, winding river can be seen behind and Apollo's palace is silhouetted against a glowing golden sky.
SA 1763 (133 - A Large landskip with Phaeton's petition to Apollo) - probably this version; BI 1814 (209/215)
Commissioned in Rome by the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, c.1754-55; sold May 1801; Walsh Porter; his sale, Christie's London, 22 March 1803 (52) - 185 guineas to Earl Cowper; Francis, 5th Earl Cowper and by descent at Panshanger to Lady Desborough; her sale, Christie's, London, 16 October 1953 (151); W.H.G.T. Turner 1954; H.M. Luther, London 1966; Anon sale, Christie's 14 July 1976 (60); D.K.F. Heathcote, Badlingham Manor; Christie's London, 12 November 1999 (41)
Unsigned, no inscription
The subject is taken from the first part of the story as told by Ovid in Metamorphoses, Book 1, lines 747 ff. and Book 2, lines 31-102. 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. As evidenced by the warm glow in the sky, the scene is very likely to be intended as an evening one to fit the story.
Related Prints
In reverse:
E12 Williiam Woollett, Phaeton, 1763, The British Museum and other impressions
E66 William Pengree Sherlock, Phaethon, The British Museum (1878,0511.622) and other impressions
Normand fils, Phaeton, current location unknown
See 'Links' tab
Related Paintings
Pendant: P90A The Destruction of the Children of Niobe, Private Collection at Ashridge, England
Critical commentary
Although the picture was commissioned by Bridgewater, Farington stated in 1801 that '[Benjamin] West told me the Duke of Bridgewater has sold his two [pictures] by Wilson, viz: Phaeton & the Companion.' Alex Kidson noted that there is what seems to be a similar, but not identical, reflection of the figure of Apollo in the lake (probably a pentimento from an earlier figure) but that there is no such reflection of Phaeton. Kidson also questioned how much this picture might be read as a sunrise, given that the sun is on the right, presumably because of our instinct to take east as right and west as left. The treatment of the figures is comparable to P119, with an effort having been made there to replicate the effects of the drapery. It has been suggested that these figures were by an Italian artist working in London, possibly Cipriani.
Farington Diary, vol. 4, p. 1553 (24 May 1801); Booth Notes, Doc. 5, p. 1; Catalogue 1814, p. 22; probably Waagen 1854, vol. 3, p. 17, Letter XXIII, Panshanger: 'A sunrise in a romantic country, with a rock crowned by a castle. This poetically composed and carefully painted picture has become very dark; so that, as often happens with pictures of the English school, it does not answer the expectations which are raised by the fine engraving'; WGC, p. 163, pl. 22b; Hayes 1966, p. 195, p. 197, fig. 10 & n. 57; London, Cardiff and New Haven 1982-83, under no. 131; Clayton 1997, pp. 198-99; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 130, fig.107; P. Humfrey, 'The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater as a Collector of Old Master Paintings', Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 27, no. 2, 2015, pp. 214, 224, n. 28
Link to WG Constable Archive Record
Updated by Compiler
2021-10-14 00:00:00