- Museum number
'Lycurgus entering Athens'; based on a passage from Dryden's 'Fables', Lycurgus, his arm bearing his shield raised above his head, enters the city in a gold chariot pulled by white bulls, his soldiers around him, and a young man running with white hounds in the left foreground. 1797
Graphite, pen and grey ink and watercolour heightened with touches of white bodycolour and gum arabic, in original frame
- Production date
Height: 800 millimetres (Frame)
Height: 568 millimetres
Width: 1030 millimetres (frame)
Width: 792 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Edward Dayes, known as a painter of topographical views, produced two large and ambitious watercolours depicting scenes from John Dryden’s 'Fables Ancient and Modern’, a 1700 collection of translations of classical and medieval poetry. They represent Dayes’s attempt to move away from landscape in order to specialise in the more prestigious genre of history painting.
The artist offers a faithful representation of the King of Thrace and his procession as described in Dryden’s 'Fables Ancient and Modern':
‘Big-bon’d, and large of limbs, with sinews strong,
Broad shoulder’d, and his arms were round and long
Four milk-white bulls (the Thracian use of old)
Were yok’d to draw his car burnish’d gold.
Upright he stood, and bore aloft his shield.’
These watercolours were produced with the Royal Academy exhibition in mind, and Dayes adopted a neo-classical style reminiscent of the works of Nicolas Poussin. He has taken both passages he illustrates (of Lycurgus and of Theseus) from Dryden's account of the story of Palamon and Arcite, a translation of Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale' from 'The Canterbury Tales' which in turn was based on Boccaccio's 'Teseida'. Dayes exhibited this watercolour alongside ‘Theseus’s approach to Athens’ at the Royal Academy in 1798 (2017.7052.1). The preparatory drawings for both compositions can be found in Dayes’ sketchbook, which is preserved in the British Museum (the study for this work is 1993,0508.1.59r).
Dayes’ ‘Essays on Painting’, written in the same year these watercolours were exhibited, were an essential part of his ‘campaign’ to be recognized as a history painter. Though they were largely reiterations of French Classicist art theory as expounded in Joshua Reynolds’ ‘Discourses’, they provide a an intellectual and practical context for this pair of watercolours.
Jonathan Yarker, 'Ambition in "the Grand Manner": Edward Dayes as History Painter', Lowell Libson Ltd., London, 2013, pp. 12-13, although the images have been switched.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1798, London, Royal Academy annual exhibition, no. 501
2018-2019, Oct 4 – 27 Jan, London, BM G90, New Acquisitions: Gozzoli to Kara Walker
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Fables Ancient and Modern
Associated Title: The Canterbury Tales (Palamon and Arcite from the 'Knight's Tale')
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Acquired with its pair, 2017,7052.1
These drawings appeared in two additional anonymous sales between 1991 and 1997:
Christie's 25.iv.1995/55 (pair) and
Sotheby's 29.ix.1993/554 (pair)
This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number