Benjamin West PRA, Bladud in Exile

Bladud in Exile, 20 September 1807

Benjamin West PRA (1738 - 1820)

RA Collection: Art

Although best known for his neoclassical paintings, the American artist Benjamin West also developed a thorough knowledge of British history in his capacity as Historical Painter to King George III. This calm, pastoral scene depicts the now-obscure legend of Bladud, a British king who was said to have founded the city of Bath.

This story first appeared in writing in Geoffrey of Monmouth's twelfth-century Historia Regnum and was later embellished to explain how Bladud had discovered the healing properties of Bath's waters. The prince was reportedly expelled from the court of his father, King Hudibras, because he suffered from leprosy. Working as a swineherd, Bladud discovered that his pigs' ailments were alleviated when they wallowed in the mud of the hot springs. When he bathed in the waters himself he too was cured and was able to return to the royal court. The legend of Bladud and the pigs was particularly popular during the eighteenth century, although by then it was not considered to be historically correct as the Roman origins of Bath were known.

Benjamin West made an extended visit to Bath with his wife between July and November 1807. Their stay clearly had an impact on West's work as he exhibited four views of the countryside around Bath and Bristol at the Academy in 1808. This drawing is inscribed 'Bath 20 Sept 1807' indicating that West decided on the subject and certainly started working on it while he was still in the city, although he finished it in London. The subject-matter is particularly appropriate: the artist's visit to Bath was intended to bring about an improvement in his wife's health.

Object details

Bladud in Exile
Benjamin West PRA (1738 - 1820)
20 September 1807
Object type
Place of Production
Coloured chalk and wash, heightened with white on brown paper

1040 mm x 1395 mm x 54 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from Unknown in 17 May 1845

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