This week I have selected a work by Richard Westall, the artist and illustrator best known for his portraits of the poet Byron. The picture shows three figures against a dramatic and foreboding sky, and though exact subject of this work has been questioned, the piece is the epitome of the late 18th century eclectic taste known as the Picturesque, of which the fanciful style Gothick is a part. Gothick, as opposed to the the more historically accurate Gothic or Gothic Revival, described a style that playfully took inspiration from medieval art and design and in architecture is most clearly defined in Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill, which used papier maché to create artificial fan vaulting. It was part of a mood that saw a great revival in interest in Shakespeare and Milton's works and many artists created pictures based on their writings.
inscribed: Collector's mark of the Second Earl of Warwick (1746-1816)
The subject was a popular one with 18th-century artists, most notably Henri FUSELI. Westall was a prolific illustrator of Milton, Gray, Crabbe and Shakespeare. He also wrote some poems and instructed the future Queen Victoria in drawing.
Iolo Williams observes that much of Westall's work contains an element of the ludicrous, citing 'a rather over‑dramatised’ sleep-walking scene from Macbeth in the V&A (Dyce 912), of similar size to this drawing. His most successful watercolours are those which include a landscape element.
PROVENANCE: The Second Earl of Warwick; Roland, Browse and Delbanco, from whom purchased by Gallery, 1958.