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Richard Wilson RA, 1713/4–1782

The Destruction of the Children of Niobe

Former Title(s):

A Large Landskip with the Story of Niobe

Oil on canvas
58 x 74 inches (147.3 x 188 cm), Frame: 65 1/2 x 83 x 4 inches (166.4 x 210.8 x 10.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
Apollo and Diana kill Niobe's children | arrows | castle | children | cliff | costume | death | destruction | Greek | heroine | horse (animal) | landscape | legend | lightning | meteorology | mountains | murder | myth | poem | poet | queen (person) | religious and mythological subject | science | storm | waves (natural events)
Associated Places:
Boeotia | Greece | Thebes | Voíótía
Associated People:
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Probably begun while Richard Wilson was in Italy but exhibited after his return to London in the first public exhibition of contemporary art in 1760, The Destruction of the Children of Niobe was a key picture both in Wilson’s career and in the development of landscape painting in Britain. Within a stormy landscape setting that echoes the violence of the mythological episode taking place, the children of Niobe, the proud queen of Thebes, are slain by Apollo and Diana as punishment for Niobe’s boast that she was superior to their mother, Leto. The first owner of this painting was Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, who had crushed ruthlessly the Jacobite Rebellion at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Though later criticized by Joshua Reynolds, the painting was widely known through a best-selling print and inspired a host of dramatic mythological or historical landscapes by Wilson and other painters including J. M. W. Turner.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

Richard Wilson’s art was a crucial influence on the generation of Romantic artists who followed him. In this painting, the figures in the foreground of Niobe and her children from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are overpowered by not only the arrows shot by Apollo at upper left but also the wild and storm-whipped landscape around them. Unlike Thomas Gainsborough, who depicted calm and even weather and light in an equally fantastical landscape also on view in the exhibition, Wilson reveled in representing wind, stormy seas, and even a flash of lightning. These elements dominate the godly figures, presaging the Romantic obsession with the representation of the power of the natural world.

Gallery label for the Critique of Reason: Romantic Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26)

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

Richard Wilson and the British Arcadia (Richard L. Feigen & Co., 2010-04-28 - 2010-06-25) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Nobleness and Grandeur - Forging Historical Landscape in Britain, 1760 - 1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 2005-01-27 - 2005-04-24) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Richard Wilson - The Landscape of Reaction (Yale Center for British Art, 1983-04-20 - 1983-06-19) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Richard Wilson - The Landscape of Reaction (National Museum Wales, 1983-01-29 - 1983-03-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Richard Wilson - The Landscape of Reaction (Tate Britain, 1982-11-03 - 1983-01-02) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Painting in England 1700-1850 - From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (Yale University Art Gallery, 1965-04-15 - 1965-06-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

A Great Collection of British Pictures in Virginia, The Times (London), , May 1, 1963, p. 5, Times Digital Archive [ORBIS]

A handbook to the gallery of British paintings in the Art Treasures Exhibition, being a reprint of critical notices originally published in The Manchester Guardian. , Bradbury and Evans, London, 1857, pp. 35-36, N5056 M6 H3 1857 (YCBA RARE BOOKS) Also available at SML Fiche B1244 Fiche N.4.2.220 and online at books.google.com [ORBIS]

Art Treasures Exhibition (Manchester, England), Catalogue of the art treasures of the United kingdom., Bradbury and Evans, London, 1857, p. 79, no. 32, N5056 M35 M25 1857 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Katharine Baetjer, Glorious nature, British landscape painting, 1750-1850 , Zwemmer publisher, London, 1993, p. 19, fig. 4, ND1354.4 B34 1993 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Timothy J. Barringer, Picturesque and sublime : Thomas Cole's trans-Atlantic inheritance, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2018, p. 90, fig. 67, NJ18 .C67 B37 2018 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Baskett, Painting in England: 1700-1850: the Collection of English paintings formed by Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon : on Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, until August 18th, , Connoisseur, Vol. 153, London, June 1963, p. 101, N1 C75 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Jan Blanc, Les Ecrits de sir Joshua Reynolds, v. 2, Turnhout, Belgium, 2015, p. 1069, cat. 28, NJ18 R36 +A12 2015 (YCBA) [YCBA]

British Institution, Account of all the pictures exhibited in the rooms of the British Institutions, from 1813 to 1823, belonging to the nobility and gentry of England , Priestley and Weale, London, 1824, pp. 255-6, 258, 260, Available online Available through Google Books; also in YCBA Rare Bks & Mss [ORBIS]

Andrea Bruciati, Il mito di Niobe, Silvana Editoriale, Milano, p. 948, fig. 94.a, N7763.N56 M58 2019 (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Catalogue of the art treasures of the United Kingdom : collected at Manchester in 1857., Bradbury and Evans, London, p. 79, no. 32, N5056 .M35 M25 1857 (YCBA) Also available in Hathitrust [YCBA]

W. G. Constable, Richard Wilson, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1953, pp. 160-3, NJ18 W72 C55 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp, 252, 253, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Martina Droth, Britain in the world: Highlights from the Yale Center for British Art in honor of Amy Meyers, Yale University Press, New Haven, London, p. 53, N6761 .Y33 2019 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Boris Ford, The Cambridge cultural history of Britain, Cambridge University Press, London; New York, 1992, vol. 5, pp. 144-45, NX543 C36 1992 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Catherine M. Gordon, British paintings Hogarth to Turner, Frederick Warne, London, 1981, p. 76, ND466 G67 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Luke Herrmann, [ Exhibition Reviews ] Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting, YCBA, New Haven, 6 March - 1 June National Museum Wales / Amueddfa Cymru, Cardiff 5 July - 26 October , British Art Journal, Vol. 15, Autumn 2014, p. 121, N6761 B74 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Luke Herrmann, The Paul Mellon Collection at Burlington House, Connoisseur, vol. 157, December 1964, pp. 216,217, fig. 9, N1 C75 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Jerrold's guide to the exhibition: how to see the Art Treasures Exhibition : a guide, systematically arranged, to enable visitors to take a view, at once rapid and complete, of the Art Treasures Palace, A. Ireland and Co., Manchester : UK, 1857, p. 25, Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.4.2.224 (SML and available online: HathiTrust)

John Cassell's Art treasures exhibition, containing engravings of the principal masterpieces of the English, Dutch, Flemish, French and German schools, with biographical sketches of the painters, and critical notices of their productions , W. Kent and Co., London, 1858, pp. 102-03, 110, N5056 .M36 C3 1858 (YCBA RARE BOOKS) Also available at SML Fiche B1244 Fiche N.4.2.215 and online at books.google.com [ORBIS]

William Laffan, Thomas Roberts, landscape and patronage in eighteenth-century Ireland. , Churchill House Press, Tralee, 2009, p. 266, fig. 220, NJ18.R544 L35 2009 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Michael Lloyd, Turner, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1996, pp. 18,24,40, NJ18 T85 L57 1996 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Peter Lord, The tradition : a new history of Welsh art, 1400-1990, Parthian, Cardigan, 2016, pp. 95, 98-99, fig. 100, N6792 .L678 2016 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

J. Woodrow McCree, Washington Irving's critique of American culture : sketching a vision of world citizenship, Lexington Books, Lanham : MD, pp. 100-102, fig. 4.1, PS2092.A54 M33 2021 (SML) [ORBIS]

Oliver Millar, The later Georgian pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen., Phaidon, London, 1969, p. xvi-xvii (v.1), ND466 M55 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Marjorie Munsterberg, The Beginning of British art criticism in the 1760s, British Art Journal, vol. 15, Autumn 2014, p. 86, N6761 B74 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Frederic Ogee, Turner, les paysages absolus , Hazan, Paris, 2010, p. 51, NJ18 T85 O34 2010 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England : 1700-1850, Arts Review, vol. 37,, April 1963, p. 20, V 2337 [ORBIS]

Painting in England 1700-1850 : collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon : Exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, , 1,2, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 46 (v.1), no. 19, pl. 220, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, pp. 84-85 (v.1), no. 301, ND466 R68 1964/65 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Elizabeth A. Pergam, The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, entrepreneurs, connoisseurs and the public , Ashgate Publishing, Surrey, UK, England Burlington, VT, 2011, pp. 100-01, No.32 (Modern), N5056 M35 P47 2011 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Martin Postle, Richard Wilson and the transformation of European landscape painting, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2014, pp. 18-23, 119, 127-29, 181, 193-94,243,273, 274-75, 276, 291, Cat. No. 89, figs. 20 and 106, NJ18.W72 R53 2014 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Graham Reynolds, Masterpieces in Mourning, TLS, the Times Literary Supplement, Issue no. 4158, December 10, 1982, p. 1364, Film S748 (SML) Also Available Online in TLS Historical Archive [ORBIS]

Richard Wilson and the British Arcadia, April 29-June 25, 2010, Richard L. Feigen & Co. , Richard L. Feigen & Co., New York, 2010, pp. [52-55], cat. no. 7, pl. 7, NJ18.W72 R53 2010 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Jason Rosenfeld, To Rival Claude, Apollo, vol. 180, July/August 2014, p. 92, fig. 2, N1 A54 (YCBA) [YCBA]

David H. Solkin, Art in Britain 1660-1815, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2015, pp, 211-12, 217-18, fig.. 213, N6766 S65 2015 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

David H. Solkin, Richard Wilson, the landscape of reaction, Tate Publishing, London, 1982, pp. 59-66, 2000-02, no. 87, col. pl. V; no. 87, NJ18 W72 S65 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Spencer-Longhurst, Paul, with Kate Lowry and David Solkin, Richard Wilson Online : A Digital Catalogue Raisonne, , The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, 2014, no. P90, http://www.richardwilsononline.ac.uk/index.php?WINID=1582051040261 [ORBIS]

David Stacey, [ Exhibition Reviews ] And another view of the Richard Wilson exhibition ..., British Art Journal, vol. 15, Autumn 2014, p. 123, N6761 B74 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Isabel Combs Stuebe, Life and works of William Hodges, , Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, 1979, pp. 6-7, NJ18 H646 S75 1979 (YCBA) [YCBA]

James Taylor, Picturing the Pacific: Joseph Banks and the Shipboard Artists of Cook and Flinders, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London, p. 122-123, N8258 .T39 2018 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

The Art Treasures Exhibition : the English school, Manchester Guardian, no. 3, Manchester : UK, May 08 1957, Available online : ProQuest Historical Newspapers

The Companion to a Walk Through the Art Exhibition of Paintings and Engravings at Old Trafford Palace, A. Ireland and Co., Manchester : UK, 1857, p. 63, no. 32, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t10p4pj8s&view=1up&seq=1 [Website]

Washington Irving's critique of American culture, Lexington Books, Lanham : MD, p. 101, fig. 4.1, PS2092.A54 M33 2021 (YCBA) [YCBA]

What to see, and where to see it! : or, the operative's guide to the art treasures exhibition, Manchester, 1857, A . Hewood, Manchester : UK, p. 12, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t3gx7xr2x&view=1up&seq=1 [Website]

Iris Wien, Joshua Reynolds : Mythos und Metapher, Wilhelm Fink, Munchen, 2009, pp. 176-77, fig. 50, NJ18.R36 W54 2009 [ORBIS]

Andrew Wilton, The life and work of J.M.W. Turner, Academy Editions, London, 1979, p. 68, pl. 60, NJ18 T85 +W577 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon : [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965, , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, pp. 61-62 (v.1), no. 227, ND466 Y35 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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