Fright of Astyanax (Drawing)

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Artist/Maker: Benjamin West (1738-1820)[1]

Created: 1797

Origin/Purchase: London

Materials: pen and brown ink, brown wash, and blue and white gouache on brown prepared paper

Dimensions: 31.8 x 46 (12 1/2 x 18 1/2 in.)

Provenance: Benjamin West to General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, June 1797; General Kosciuszko to Thomas Jefferson until 1826; by descent to Ellen and Joseph Coolidge; to a private collection; by sale at Christie's New York, January 7, 1981 to Paul Magriel; by sale to Hirschl & Adler Galleries; to the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1984

Historical Notes: Benjamin West, the American-born painter who forged a brilliant career in London, was represented by two works in Jefferson's collection, The Prodigal Son (unlocated) done in the polyplasiasmos manner and what Jefferson referred to as "Hector and Andromache." The subject is based on the sixth book of Homer's Iliad and shows Hector bidding good-bye to his wife, Andromache, and young child, Astyanax, who is frightened by his father's helmet.[2] West painted two paintings, both lost, of this subject. In his Catalogue of Paintings Jefferson described it as "Hector and Andromache, in water colours, an original by West. The scene is their meeting in Homer 6.494 &c. Given by West to Genl. Kosciuszko, and by him to Th.J." West signed the watercolor at the the top left, "From Benj.n West esq/to Genl Kosciusko/London June 10th./1797."

The accomplished Fright of Astyanax was a gift on June 10, 1797 from the artist to General Kosciuszko, the Polish nobleman who volunteered for service and became one of Washington's best officers. Trained in military studies in Poland and France, Kosciuszko strengthened the immature Revolutionary army. He was on his way to America when he met West in London. In Philadelphia during the winter of 1798, he met Jefferson, who was then vice president. Kosciuszko presented him with West's watercolor drawing before he returned to Europe in May 1798.[3]

Jefferson noted in his Catalogue of Paintings that the watercolor was exhibited on the lowest tier in the Parlor, although a descendant reported that it was hung in the Dining Room on the right side of the arch to the Tea Room. After Jefferson's death the drawing was held back from sale at the Harding Gallery in 1833 by Ellen Coolidge, who wrote her mother, "I kept back the Ariadne...Hector and Andromache and the soap-stone Indian, because I thought it a pity to sacrifice them as the others were sacrificed."[4]

Footnotes

  1. This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 150.
  2. Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 248-249.
  3. Thomas Jefferson to William Thornton, Monticello, December 24, 1814. Thomas Jefferson Papers, The Library of Congress. Polygraph copy available online from the Library of Congress.
  4. Ellen Coolidge to Martha Jefferson Randolph, July 21, 1833. Jefferson-Coolidge Family Collection, University of Virginia.

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