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', Kora of Sicyon (daughter of Butades and sometimes referred to as 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

The Origin of Painting
Benjamin West PRA (1738 - 1820)
Object type
Pen and black ink with grey/brown wash on off-white laid paper

108 mm x 136 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Rupert Gunnis 1957
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