Benjamin West, P.R.A. 1738 - 1820
Death on the Pale Horse
Photo: R.A./British Museum
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Death on the Pale Horse, 1783-1803
pen and brown ink with wash and gouache on laid paper, 580 X 1128 mm
Purchased from Unknown, 17 May 1845
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This drawing, West's first version of the composition that he later named Death on the Pale Horse, was originally conceived as a painting for the chapel of 'Revealed Religion' commissioned by George III but terminated in 1801. West nevertheless continued to work on the scene independently. He produced an oil sketch of the same subject in 1796 and a vast canvas in 1817.

The finished painting was exhibited at the Pall Mall Galleries in 1817, with the subtitle The Opening of the First Five Seals, accompanied by an explanatory pamplet which quoted the relevant passage from Revelations 6:7-8:

'And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with beasts of the earth.'

West exhibited this drawing at the Royal Academy in 1784 under its original title, The Triumph of Death. He retouched the drawing in 1803 but seems only to have added highlights rather than changing the composition. Although there are differences between all three versions, the artist referred to his original sketch as a guide, retaining it in his studio collection until his death in 1820. Inherited by the artist's sons Raphael and Benjamin West Junior, the drawing was exhibited at West's London studio during the 1820s. It was purchased by the Royal Academy in 1845, along with Moses Striking the Rock and Bladud in Exile, and was shown at the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition in 1857.

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