Original Chalk Drawings of Lost Artwork In a sale of Old Masters & 19th Century Works on Paper

. July 2, 2014

The original chalk drawings of two lost paintings by American portrait and history painter, Benjamin West, surface at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions’ sale of Old Masters & 19th Century Works on Paper on Thursday 24th July 2014.

Moses Showing the Brazen Serpent

Moses Showing the Brazen Serpent

The black chalk on buff paper of Moses, 1787, [Lot 12] and another of St. John the Baptist, 1787, [Lot 13] by Benjamin West (1738-1820) appear to be preparatory studies for two large-scale oil painting, Moses Showing the Brazen Serpent and St. John the Baptist, that West produced in the late 18th century.

Although the final paintings, along with two others, later served as the basis for the engraved illustration in Thomas Macklin’s Bible, published circa 1793, their current location is at present unknown.

Alongside Macklin’s engravings, these rare drawings provide the first real insight into how West’s lost paintings may have originally appeared.

In The Paintings of Benjamin West Von Erffa and Stanley suggest that the two lost paintings may have formed the outer wings of a triptych centred around West’s The Resurrection, now held in St George’s Parish Church, Barbados.
Known in England as the ‘American Raphael’, West was a pioneer of historical painting, having studied under Gavin Hamilton and Anton Raphael Mengs in Rome.

He was the first painter in Britain to receive critical acclaim for featuring contemporary clothing in his historical canvases, was made charter member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 and was appointed the official Royal history painter in 1772.

As one would expect, the composition of these drawings differ somewhat to Macklin’s illustrations, but the execution and style sit well when compared with the other grand and formidable compositions that West was producing following his contact with philosopher Edmund Burke in the 1780s (cf. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Head of a Screaming Man, 1792, no.1967,130.a)


Elsewhere in the sale representing a strong watercolour section are a series of 26 finely executed views showing the town of Bridgnorth and village of Quartford in Shropshire, that offer a historical glimpse of the county during the 19th century.

The watercolours, dating from 1828-1830, were painted by artist and printmaker Joseph Powell for Mr John Smalman, an architect and Mayor of Quartford.

The views include one mounted on a manuscript sheet titled Pedigree of the Smalman Family of Kinnersley Castle, Co. Hereford, featuring the family tree of Mr John Smalman.

Smalman built and lived in Quartford Castle after his family moved from Kinnersley Castle in Herefordshire during the Civil War. Quatford had been an important crossing point of the River Severn until the building of a bridge to its north, which developed into the larger town of Bridgnorth.

The sale will be held on Thursday 24th July at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions’ saleroom in London’s Mayfair. The illustrated catalogue will be available to download and view online at www.bloomsburyauctions.com

Category: Auction News

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