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James Ward, 1769–1859

Man Struggling with a Boa Constrictor, Study for “The Liboya Serpent Seizing His Prey”

Former Title(s):

Study of a Negro Struggling with a Boa Constrictor for 'A Boa Serpent Seizing a Horse'

Liboya serpent seizing his prey

Study for ' The Liboya Serpent Seizing its Prey'

The Boa Serpent Seizing a Horse, Portrait of Adonis, the Favourite Charger of His late Majesty George the Third; a study for a large picture [1822, Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhibition catalogue]

ca. 1803
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
33 x 47 inches (83.8 x 119.4 cm), Frame: 40 1/2 × 53 1/2 inches (102.9 × 135.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
brushstrokes | figure study | man | movement | pain | slavery | snake | strangling
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

In this unfinished painting, Ward created a carefully rendered study of a man using all his strength to push a large snake from his body, his eyes trained on the flailing tail that might strike at any moment. Ward made this painting in preparation for a much larger painting, now lost but known through a full compositional study. The final painting was wildly ambitious: it showed an impossibly long snake enveloping the body of a white horse, snatching the rider from its back. Given Ward’s opposition to Britain’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, it seems likely he intended his composition to be read as an allegory of slavery, which at the time was yet to be abolished.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2021

This painting is a full-scale study for James Ward’s lost canvas The Liboya Serpent Seizing His Prey. That painting depicted a black man being pulled off a white horse by a giant boa constrictor. Ward was part of a circle of artists and writers who called for the abolition of the slave trade, and the iconography here is thought to refer to a nineteenth-century idea that the avariciousness of slave owners could be equated with the appetite of a serpent.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

James Ward (Yale Center for British Art, 2004-05-21 - 2004-08-22) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Constable to Delacroix : British Art and the French Romantics 1820-1840 (Tate Britain, 2003-02-06 - 2003-05-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Catalogue of the works of british artists placed in the gallery of the British Institution, Pall-Mall, British Institution, London, 1806, p. 11, No. 32, N5055 B7 A06+ Oversize (YCBA Rare Books) [ORBIS]

Christie's sale catalogue : Collection of paintings, the original works of that greatly-admired artist, James Ward : 29 May 1829, Christie's, London, 29 May 1829, Lot. 58, Not Available at Yale [ORBIS]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 234, 235, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

C. Reginald Grundy, James Ward R.A., his life and works, with a catalogue of his engravings and pictures , Otto limited, London, 1909, p. 38, no. 48, NJ18 W21 G7+ OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Hugh Honour, The Image of the Black in Western Art Vol. 4 From the American Revolution to World War I, Part 1 Slaves and Liberators , vol. 4, part 1, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1989, pp. 90-91, 320 note 225, fig. 44, N8232 .I42 2010 vol. 4:1 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) Citations are to Vol. 4, Part 1 [YCBA]

Harry Mount, James Ward:, 'Study of a negro struggling with a boa constrictor' adapted from an Art In Context talk, 10 April 1990 , New Haven, CT, 1990, p. 1-8, V2395 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Patrick Noon, Constable to Delacroix, British art and the French romanticism , Tate Publishing, London, 2003, p. 164, no. 83, ND457 N66 2003 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Patrick Noon, Crossing the Channel : British and French painting in the age of romanticism, Tate Publishing, London, p. 164, no. 83, ND467.5.R6 N66 2003 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Edward John Nygren, Art of James Ward R.A. (1769-1859) [PhD Dissertation, Yale University], New Haven, CT, 1976, p. 29-38, NJ18 .W21 N95 1976A (YCBA) [YCBA]

Edward John Nygren, James Ward, RA (1769-1859) : Papers and Patrons, Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 75, 2013, pp. 265-66, no. 46, N12 W35 +A1Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Linda Furgerson Selzer, Reading the Painterly Text, Clarence Major's "The Slave Trade: View from the Middle Passage" , African American Review, vol. 33, Summer 1999, pp. 222, 228, PS 153 N5 B53 (SML) Also available online at JSTOR. [ORBIS]

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