Larry Silver                                                                   University of Pennsylvania

Volume 5, October 2023

Edgar Wind’s well-established fascination with eighteenth-century English painting chiefly focused
on the heroic portrait tradition around Joshua Reynolds. However, his seminal article about “the
revolution in history painting” engaged with Benjamin West’s innovation: to combine grand
manner history painting with modern events in modern costume, and, as Wind readily recognized,
also with group portraits from the English genre of “conversation pieces.” After his 1770 Death of
General Wolfe, West painted other grand manner modern histories of virtuous deaths, featuring the
Earl of Chatham (1778) and Lord Nelson (1806). But sponsored by King George III, West also
began a massive series of religious pictures for Windsor Castle, proposed for a Chapel of Revealed
Religion, never realized, even after two decades. Despite West’s adherence to religious painting
traditions, Wind neglected this artistic contribution, unusual for this period in England and aware
of Roman heritage. But West’s imagery, especially his depictions of Revelation became increasingly
steeped in contemporary theories of the sublime, evoking both terror and horror of the
Apocalypse, very much at odds with Wind.

Benjamin West; Edgar Wind; Modern/History; Religion



Abrams, Ann Uhry, The Valiant Hero. Benjamin West and Grand Style History Painting (Washington: Smithsonian Press, 1985).

Balis, Arnout, Rubens Hunting Scenes. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard XVIII.2 (Oxford: Harvey Miller, 1986).

Bellew, Emily and William Pressly, eds., John Singleton Copley in Gneland, exh. cat. (Washington: National Gallery, 1995).

Bindman, David, William Blake: His Art and Times (London: Thames & Hudson, 1982).

Boime, Albert, Art in an Age of Revolution (1789–1820) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

Boime, Albert, Art in an Age of Bonapartism 1800–1815 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

Van Erffa, Helmut and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamine West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986).

Fordham, Douglas, British Art and the Seven YearsWar (Philadelphia: Penn Press, 2010).

Friedman, Winifred, The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery (New York: Garland, 1976).

Golahny, Amy, Rembrandt’s Hundred Guilder Print: His Master Etching (London: Lund Humphries, 2021).

Hagstrum, Jean, William Blake. Poet and Painter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964).

Irwin, David, Neoclassicism (London: Phaidon, 1997).

Kamensky, Jane, A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley (New York: Norton, 2016).

Meyer, Jerry, “Benjamin West’s Chapel of Revealed Religion: A Study in Eighteenth Century Protestant Art,” Art Bulletin 57 (1975), pp. 247-275.

Mitchell, Charles, “Benjamin West’s Death of Nelson,” in Douglas Fraser et al., eds., Essays in the History of Art Presented to Rudolf Wittkower (London: Phaidon, 1967), pp. 265-273.

Myrone, Martin, Henry Fuseli (London: Tate Gallery, 2001).

Paley, Morton, The Apocalyptic Sublime (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986).

Pape, Walter and Frederick Burwick, eds., The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery (Bottrop: Peter Pomp, 1996).

Paulson, Ronald, Representations of Revolution (1789–1820) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).

Penny, Nicholas, Reynolds, exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy, 1985).

Pressly, Nancy, Revealed Religion: Benjamin Wests Commissions for Windsor Castle and Fonthill Abbey, exh. cat. (San Antonio: Museum of Art, 1983).

Rosenblum, Robert, Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).

Staley, Allen, Benjamin West. American Painter at the English Court, exh. cat. (Baltimore: Museum of Art, 1989).

Staley, Allen, Copley and West in England 1775–1815 (London: Burlington Press, 2021).

Wendorf, Richard, Sir Joshua Reynolds. The Painter in Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

Wind, Edgar, “The Revolution of History Painting,” Hume and the Heroic Portrait. Studies in Eighteenth-Century, ed. Jaynie Anderson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 88-99.

The Edgar Wind Journal 5: 39-59, 2023
DOI: 10.53245/EWJ-000025
Copyright: © 2023 L. Silver. This is an open access, peer-reviewed article published by Bernardino Branca