Commissioned by Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780–1863)
Bowood House, Wiltshire;
Sold Sotheby's London, 6th June 1973, lot 56;
Private Collection, U.S.A.
The Royal Academy, 1837, no.1190: 'Mercury presenting Pandora to Prometheus; an alto-relievo in marble, executed for the panel of a room'
A.Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts. A Complete dictionary of contributors [...], London 1906, vol.8, p.239; Gunnis, p.425;
C.Dodgson, ‘Westmacott, Richard (1799–1872)’, rev. M.Busco, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
This relief was originally designed for the entrance hall of Bowood House, Wiltshire, the home of the Marquess of Landsdowne where, set within its original frame, it dominated a side wall, above a fireplace, flanked by niches (see illustration). It was commissioned by Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess (1780-1863) who was also responsible for extensive work on Bowood, commissioning the Chapel and re-design of the Library from C.R. Cockerell and the Clock Tower and ‘Golden Gates’ from Sir Charles Barry. He also installed the famous terrace gardens. The Prometheus and Mercury relief was sold in these rooms following the demolition of a large part of the house by the 8th Marquess in 1955.
The scene shows Mercury bringing the beautiful Pandora as a gift from the gods to Prometheus. Prometheus' defiant posture shows his rejection of this gift, knowing that the gods would never send him something so beautiful.
Westmacott gave up the admirable ambition to become a lawyer to follow in his father’s footsteps as a sculptor. Supported by an encouraging parent, Westmacott had a classic training, attending the Royal Academy Schools from 1818 and then six years study in Italy. From the late 1830s Westmacott took over the majority of his father’s commissions. This situation perhaps explains the inclusion of this relief in Gunnis’ list of works by Sir Richard (wrongly identified as Vulcan and Mercury) although he correctly records another Bowood relief of Paolo and Francesca under Westmacott the Younger.
On his return from Italy Westmacott the Younger benefited from his father’s successful business. He inherited his father’s entrée to many of the greatest houses in England. One of his first recorded commissions was for two chimney-pieces for Buckingham Palace, which was followed by similar work for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth and for the Duke of Sutherland at Stafford House, London.
Westmacott equally inherited his father’s sculptural style. The restrained classicism of the Prometheus and Mercury relief is influenced by works such as The Trial of Socrates (ca. 1818-1824) in Holkham Hall, Norfolk or Hector Reproaching Paris (1821) Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire by Sir Richard. The format of these reliefs was one favoured by both Westmacotts’ aristocratic patrons because it perfectly complemented the soberly designed interiors of the neo-classical era. These mythological reliefs created a stronger and more appropriately antique impression within a chromatically restrained architectural setting than was possible with a painting and they were particularly suitable for the entrance halls of the great English country house.
In the 19th century the Lansdowne collection was one of the most distinguished sculpture galleries of any English country house with one of the finest collections of Antique sculpture. Bowood is still the home of three important classical marbles as well as Sir Richard Westmacott’s Distressed Mother.
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