Three Ladies Making Music (Primary Title)

Benjamin West, American, 1738 - 1820 (Artist)

1798
American
oil on canvas
Unframed: 14 1/2 × 18 5/8 in. (36.83 × 47.31 cm)
Framed: 21 13/16 × 26 1/8 × 2 5/8 in. (55.4 × 66.36 × 6.67 cm)
2007.18

American-born Benjamin West resided in England, where he gained an international reputation for history paintings, such as his Caesar Reading the History of Alexander’s Exploits, on view in the previous gallery. Three Ladies Making Music, painted late in his career, is one of West’s rare genre paintings. The elegant composition showcases social graces and neoclassical tastes of the period. One musician wears the latest hat, fashioned after the helmet of an ancient warrior, while her friend at right arranges herself on a modified Greek-style klismos chair.

The simplified linear forms of the three figures suggest West’s familiarity with the recently published illustrations of John Flaxman, whose attenuated classical figures were further popularized as motifs on Wedgwood’s ceramic jasperware. West’s embrace of genre painting in the 1790s may also reveal a broader motive. Such images were seen as distinctly English by tradition. After war broke out with revolutionary France in 1793, the genre’s celebration of native English ways took on a decidedly patriotic dimension.

 

signed center left: B. West 1798
J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art
"Once Upon a Time in America: Three Centuries of US-American Art", Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne, Germany, November 13, 2018 - March 24, 2019

Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 2002-03
O’Leary, Elizabeth L., Sylvia Yount, Susan Jensen Rawles, and David Park Curry. American Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Charlottesville: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with the University of Virginia Press, 2010. (Fig. 21, p. 23).

von Erffa, Helmut, and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986. (p. 423 no. 456 illus.)
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.