The Destruction of Niobe's Children, after Richard Wilson
45 cm x 58 cm (17 11/16 in. x 22 13/16 in.)
(Maidstone, England, 1735 - 1785, London)
Medium and Support:
Etching and engraving
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002
This print reproduces Richard Wilson’s celebrated painting The Destruction of Niobe’s Children of 1759–1760 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut). It established Woollett’s reputation as the finest line engraver in eighteenth-century England, earning his publisher, John Boydell, a significant income. The museum possesses forty-four engravings by Woollett, most from a collection formed by a direct descendent, David Woollett.
The scene, taken from Greek mythology, shows the Theban queen, Niobe, punished for her excessive pride by Apollo and Diana, who are in the process of slaying her seven sons and daughters. Woollett achieved the range of tones and textures that contributes to the sense of violence in this scene by first etching parts of the plate to various depths, then engraving the rest of the image. So effective was this technique in depicting the stormy setting that a contemporary of Woollett dubbed him “the first Landscape Engraver in the World.” King George III later appointed him Engraver in Ordinary, and Benjamin West gave him the commission to reproduce his own masterpiece, The Death of General Wolfe of 1770 (National Gallery, Ottawa).