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Benjamin West PRA, The Origin of Painting

The Origin of Painting, 1795

Benjamin West PRA (1738 - 1820)

RA Collection: Art

A pen and ink drawing illustrating the story of the origin of painting, also known as 'The Dawn of Portraiture'. West depicted two entwined figures sharing a seat. The male figure on the left holds up a lamp while his female companion paints the outline of his shadow on the wall. This refers to the myth of the 'Corinthian Maid', Dibutades, who drew around her lover’s shadow on a wall in order to preserve his image as a memento while he was away. This poetic explanation for the origin of painting was recounted by Pliny the Elder after a Greek myth. The story was popular during the 18th century when it was depicted by David Allan, Joseph Wright of Derby and other artists.

This drawing was engraved by Bartolozzi in 1791 and was also used as the design for a trade card advertising drawing lessons given by Thomas Sandby Jnr., son of the painter Paul Sandby R.A.

Object details

Title
The Origin of Painting
Artist/designer
Benjamin West PRA (1738 - 1820)
Date
1795
Object type
Drawing
Medium
Pen and black ink with grey/brown wash on off-white laid paper
Dimensions

108 mm x 136 mm

Collection
Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
02/558
Acquisition
Given by Rupert Gunnis 1957
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