Three Ladies Making Music (Primary Title)
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.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 2002-03
von Erffa, Helmut, and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986. (p. 423 no. 456 illus.)
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