The Ascension, 1801
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated
49 1/2 x 34 in. (125.5 x 86.5 cm)
This work represents Christ's ascension to heaven upon a cloud, with awe-struck figures beneath him watching the scene in amazement. It was the preliminary oil sketch for a painting that was never completed. The painting was part of an important commission that West received from George III in 1779 to redecorate the Royal Chapel at Windsor Castle. West worked on the project, a series of Old and New Testament subjects, for more than twenty years, completing eighteen paintings, nine oil sketches, and a number of drawings.
Because oil sketches such as this are not finished works, they are often characterized by a looser, more expressive handling of paint. Many artists do their best work in their sketches. Such was the opinion of West's paintings during his lifetime, and he submitted many of his sketches for exhibition, including this one, which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1801.
Benjamin West; his sons, Raphael and Benjamin West; their sale, Robins, London, May 22-25, 1829, lot 80; bought by the 3rd Earl of Egremont; by descent to John Wyndham, 7th Baron Egremont; Sotheby's, London, July 19, 1978, lot 19; P. & D. Colnaghi Ltd., London and New York; Hall and Knight, London
Literature: C. H. Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures in the Possession of Lord Leconfield, 1920, no. 77, p. 133; Ruth S. Kramer, Drawings by Benjamin West, New York, 1975, no. 23, p. 18; H. von Erffa and A. Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, 1986, no. 383, pp. 105, 377-378, repr.
Exhibited: Royal Academy, London, 1801, no. 167 ("A Sketch for a large picture for his Majesty's Chapel, Windsor")
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