The Death of Richard II
78 x 60 in. (198.1 x 152.4 cm)
(London, 1747 - 1801)
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Marion Stratton Gould Fund
Location: Not currently on view
Francis Wheatley was best known for his historical paintings, scenes of daily life, and portraits. He trained at the Royal Academy in London and became the director of the Society of Artists in 1774. Debts and an unfortunate affair with the wife of a colleague led to his abrupt departure from England to Ireland. He returned in 1783, when he began painting illustrations for works by contemporary authors. The success of these “painted illustrations” led to major commissions, including the one for this monumental painting from the print publisher Robert Bowyer.
One of Bowyer’s most ambitious projects was an illustrated edition of David Hume’s "The History of England." It comprised not only a lavish publication, but the creation of a “History Gallery” for the public display of the original paintings. According to Bowyer’s prospectus, the paintings were intended “to rouse the passions, to fire the mind with emulation of heroic deeds, or to inspire it with detestation of criminal actions.”
Wheatley responded to this challenge by depicting the more dramatic version of Richard’s death, in which he was beheaded rather than starved in prison. The theatrical gestures and expressions, lurid coloring, and bold brushwork serve to heighten the violent drama of the events. In the end, the project was a financial disaster; the paintings from the gallery, including Wheatley’s "The Death of Richard II," were sold in a lottery in 1807.
[Label text from It Came From the Vault exhibition, 2013]