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Richard Westall RA, Melancholy

Melancholy, 1790s?

Richard Westall RA (1765 - 1836)

RA Collection: Art

A roundel depicting a woman wearing a dark brown dress seated on a rock or tree stump. She leans over to the left with her left hand supporting her head as she looks upwards, a pose traditionally considered as denoting a sad or contemplative mood (e.g. Albrecht Dürer's 'Melancolia'). In her right hand she holds a hunting horn. The composition is similar to that of Westall's more detailed drawing 'Portrait of a Woman seated in a Landscape with a spaniel' (1793; British Museum).

The title 'Melancholy' was assigned by Keightley (see LAW/7). and on the back of the mount he inscribed a verse from a poem by William Collins entitled The Passions. An ode for music (1750). Westall's drawing illustrates this verse on Melancholy:

With eyes upraised, as one inspired

Pale Melancholy sat retired;

And, from her wild sequestered seat,

In notes by distance made more sweet,

Poured through the mellow horn her pensive soul:

And, dashing soft from rocks around,

Bubbling runnels joined the sound;

Through glades and glooms the mingled measure stole,

Or, o'er some haunted stream, with fond delay,

Round an holy calm diffusing,

Love of peace, and lonely musing

In hollow murmurs died away.

This drawing was previously owned by Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA. He and Westall were close friends, Westall even living with the Lawrence family between 1790 - 1794. It is likely that Lawrence acquired the drawing direct from the artist. During this period both artists produced a series of drawings of sitters in outdoor settings like this one. Lawrence's interest in and knowledge of earlier images of melancholic figures is evident in his portrait of Mrs Wolff (c. 1803 - 1815; Art Institute of Chicago) whose pose is based on a sixteenth-century engraving entitled 'A Sleeping Woman' (example in the British Museum).

Object details

Richard Westall RA (1765 - 1836)
Object type
Watercolour with pen and ink on wove paper

102 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
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