Death on the Pale Horse and other works by Benjamin West PRA

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					Death on the Pale Horse and other works by Benjamin West PRA
27 February – 24 May 2009

An exhibition focusing on Benjamin West’s first version of Death on the Pale Horse, will open at the
Royal Academy in February in the Tennant Room. This striking drawing, depicting the Apocalypse,
was produced in 1783 as part of a commission from George III, but the King eventually rejected it as
a ‘Bedlamite scene’. West nevertheless pursued the composition independently, reworking his
original study to produce a final, monumental painting in 1817.

Based on the Book of Revelations, the drawing depicts the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with
Death in the centre, crowned and wielding bolts of lighting. West intended to include this scene in a
cycle of religious paintings for George III’s new chapel at Windsor Castle. However, the whole
project was cancelled in 1801. The King’s comment on Death on the Pale Horse associates
apocalyptic imagery with madness and disorder, in spite of its biblical credentials. This has been
explained not only in terms of the King’s concern for his sanity but also in connection with the
volatile political climate of the late 18th century. It may be no coincidence that this scene of conflict
and destruction was produced just as the American War of Independence drew to a close. West’s
subsequent versions of the same scene can also be related to contemporary events including the
aftermath of the French Revolution and the Battle of Waterloo.

Death on the Pale Horse is displayed alongside a small group of West’s watercolours, drawings and
sketchbooks from the Royal Academy Collection to explore his skills as a draughtsman as well as the
fascination with apocalyptic imagery which emerged during this turbulent age of revolutions and
wars. On show are further drawings for the Windsor project including Moses Striking the Rock and
historical scenes such as Prince Bladud in Exile. In addition, the artist’s 1793 self-portrait and his
painting Christ Blessing Little Children hang in adjoining galleries while his ceiling paintings of the
Four Elements and the Graces unveiling Nature can be seen in the Front Hall of the Royal Academy.

West was born in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., in 1738, but achieved his greatest success in Britain. Moving
to London in 1763, he rapidly established himself as one of the country’s leading artists. His status
was confirmed when he became a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768 and he was shortly
afterwards appointed History Painter to the King. In 1792 he succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as the
Academy’s second President.

This display is supported by the Royal Academy’s Benjamin West Patrons Group.
Open to public:       Friday 27 February – Sunday 24 May 2009

Opening hours:
Tennant Room          Tuesday to Friday, 1 – 4.30pm
                      Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 6pm
                      Closed Monday

Admission to Death on the Pale Horse and other works by Benjamin West PRA in the Tennant
Room is free.

Tuesday 3 March 2009 at 3pm in the Tennant Room

An introduction to the display by the exhibtion’s curator. All welcome. No booking necessary.

Publicity images for Death on the Pale Horse and other works by Benjamin West PRA can be
obtained from Picselect, the Press Association’s image service for press use. Please register at and once registered go to the Royal Academy of Arts folder in the Arts section of

For public information please print tel: 020 7300 8000 or
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD.

For further press information please contact Johanna Bennett on tel: 020 7300 5615,
fax: 020 7300 8032 or                                   22/01/09

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Description: Death on the Pale Horse and other works by Benjamin West PRA