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Record Image
Westall, Richard (English, b.1765, d.1836), Artist
Group of Female Figures
watercolour
200 x 205 mm
874-195X
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Given in the 1950s by Archdeacon F H D Smythe.
From the middle of the 18th century Neoclassicism began to take over from the Baroque and Rococo in Western art, architecture and interior decoration. Those manners also represented a kind of Classical revival, as had every development since the Renaissance. But where the Baroque and Rococo were triumphal and exuberant, Neoclassicism was more restrained. Inspired by the discoveries of the buried cities at Herculaneum and Pompeii, the new manner emphasised reason, delicacy and order. As Richard Westall embarked on his career in the early 1790s these characteristics were to the fore in his work.
A Royal Academician in 1794, exhibiting history paintings, he found a special niche as an illustrator. His watercolours were engraved to illustrate editions of Shakespeare, Milton and numerous other poets. In the course of his career Neoclassicism began to give way in turn to Romanticism, in which irrationality, individuality and emotion took precedence over harmony and order. Westall’s work smoothly evolved with the changing times and the needs of different commissions. This image reflects that adaptation, the swirling drapery and falling hair suggesting emotional turmoil, while animal fur next to bared human skin evokes passion. This is a painterly parallel to the poetry of Keats and Byron.

not on view

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