Overview

By 1779, Benjamin West had conceived his life's "great work," intending to rebuild the Royal Chapel at Windsor Castle as a shrine to Revealed Religion. After sponsoring the elaborate scheme for two decades, George III abruptly canceled it in 1801. Though the overall project was abandoned, many individual paintings, including this nine–foot–long Expulsion, were completed.

The Book of Genesis does not state how the first man and woman were expelled from Eden, but artists usually portray the Archangel Michael as the agent of the Lord's wrath. The sinners wear fur robes because God clothed them in "coats of skins" so that they could stand unashamed in his presence. The serpent, now cursed among creatures, slithers away on its belly to eat dust. The sharp beam of light overhead refers to the "flaming sword" in Genesis.

West's Expulsion contains two motifs not found in Genesis or any traditional pictures of the theme: an eagle swoops upon a helpless bird, and a lion chases frightened horses. In general terms, such beasts of prey imply the destruction of harmony that resulted from Original Sin. Regardless of any further symbolism, West's artistic treatment foretells the new romantic style with its theatrical gestures, rich paint textures, and clashes of blinding light and shadowy darkness.

Inscription

lower left: B. West / 1791

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Painted for George III of England but never delivered;[1] ownership rights returned in 1828 by George IV to the artist's sons Raphael Lamar West [1766-1850] and Benjamin West, Jr. [1772-1848]; sold (George Robins, London, 25 May 1829, no. 154); bought by Smith, apparently for Raphael West;[2] sold (George Robins, London, 16 July 1831, no. 40).[3] Private collection, Yorkshire, England; sold (Phillips, Son & Neale, London, 13 December 1988, no. 35);[4] bought by (Thomas Agnew and Sons, London); purchased 1989 by NGA.

Exhibition History

1791
Royal Academy, London, no. 147, as The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, for his Majesty's chapel, Windsor-castle
1821
West's Gallery, Newman Street, London, 1821, no. 47
1822
West's Gallery, Newman Street, London, 1822-1828, no. 98

Bibliography

1791
"Royal Academy Dinner and Exhibition." London Chronicle(30 April-3 May 1791): 423.
1791
"Royal Academy Dinner and Exhibition." The Morning Chronicle, 2 May 1791: 3.
1791
"Royal Academy IV." The Times (9 May 1791): 2.
1791
"Royal Academy." Morning Post, and Daily Advertiser, 3 May 1791: 2.
1791
"Royal Academy. No. I." Evening Mail, 2-4 May 1791: 3.
1791
"Royal Academy. No. II. Mr. West, Historical Painter to His Majesty." London Times (5 May 1791): 3.
1791
"Royal Academy. No. I." Times (4 May 1791): 2.
1791
"Royal Academy." Oracle, 3 May 1791: 2.
1791
"Royal Academy, Somerset-Place." The Public Advertiser, 3 May 1791: 2.
1791
"Royal Academy. The Twenty-third Exhibition." Whitehall Evening Post (30 April-3 May 1791): 4.
1791
"The Exhibition of the Royal Academy for 1791." St. James Chronicle, or British Evening Post (30 April - 3 May 1791): 4.
1791
"The Royal Academy. (Continuation.)" The Morning Chronicle (5 May 1791): 2.
1791
"The Royal Exhibition." The Morning Post, and Daily Advertiser (31 May 1791): 3.
1797
West, Benjamin. Manuscript account of paintings for George III. 20 June 1797. Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
1805
"A Correct Catalogue of the Works of Mr. West." Public Characters of 1805. London, 1805: 560.
1805
"A Correct List of the Work of Mr. West." Universal Magazine 3, no. 19 (June 1805): 527.
1805
"An Account, delivered at the Desire of the Council of the Royal Academy, of the Great Historical Works painted for His Majesty by Benjamin West, Esq. President." Academic Annals. London, 1805: 66.
1807
Barlow, Joel. "Note 45 [list of works by Benjamin West]." The Columbiad. A Poem. Philadelphia, 1807: 431.
1808
"A Correct Catalogue of the Works of Benjamin West, Esq." La Belle Assemblée or Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine 4, Supplement (February 1808): 14.
1820
Galt, John. "The Account of Pictures painted by Benjamin West for His Majesty, by his Gracious Commands, from 1768 to 1780." The Life, Studies and Works of Benjamin West, Esq. London, 1820: 209-218.
1821
A Catalogue of Pictures painted by the late Benjamin West, Esq....now exhibiting at No. 14, Newman Street. London, 1821: 18, no. 47.
1828
Catalogue of Pictures and Drawings by the late Benjamin West, Esq....now exhibiting at No. 14, Newman Street. London, 1828: 27, no. 98.
1975
Kraemer, Ruth S. Drawings by Benjamin West and his son Raphael Lamar West. New York, 1975: 32, no. 50, repro. plate 29.
1975
Meyer, Jerry D. "Benjamin West's Chapel of Revealed Religion. A Study in Eighteenth-Century Protestant Religious Art." Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (June 1975): 247-265.
1975
Meyer, Jerry D. "The Religious Paintings of Benjamin West: A Study in Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century Moral Sentiment." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1975: 284.
1977
Dillenberger 1977, 58-63, 133, 143, 193, 208, 233.
1983
Pressly, Nancy L. Revealed Religion: Benjamin West's Commissions for Windsor Castle and Fonthill Abbey. Exh. cat. San Antonio Museum of Art, Texas, 1983: 15-25.
1986
Von Erffa and Staley 1986, 286-287, no. 232, 577-581.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 378, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 218, repro.
1995
Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 334-340, color repro. 337.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 296-297, no. 241, color repro.

Technical Summary

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