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benjamin west (1738-1820) 
”Thetis bringing the armour to Achilles”

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale 11-14 June 2019

Lot 839. Benjamin West (USA 1738‑1820). ”Thetis bringing the armour to Achilles”. Signed and dated B. West 1804. Oil on relined canvas, 68.5 x 51.5 cm.

Compare with Benjamin West’s paintings with the same theme in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts inv. no. 04/1466 (246.5 x 180.5 cm) from 1805, in the LACMA inv. no. M.88.182 (68.6 x 51 cm) from 1804 and in New Britain Museum of American art inv. no. 1942.1 (51 x 69 cm) from 1806.

Henry Corbould made a lithograph following this painting by West, 1 March 1820, published by F. Moser, see British Museum, London, no. 1838,0425.72.


150.000 – 200.000 SEK
€ 14.000 – 19.000


Neurosurgeon Aron Petter Lindström (1907‑2000), first husband of the actress Ingrid Bergman (1915‑1982).
Presented as a gift from the above to the father-in-law of the present owner before 1937.


Royal Academy, London, 1805, cat. no. 151; ”Thetis brings to her son the armour made by Vulcan”.


Ruth S. Kraemer, Drawings by Benjamin West and his son Raphael Lamar West, 1975, compare with the drawing no. 76, p. 46.
Helmut von Erffa & Allen Staley, The paintings of Benjamin West, 1986, p. 253f, cat. no. 173.

In context

The reappearance of Benjamin West’s painting “Thetis bringing the Armour to Achilles”

”Goddess (he cry’d), these glorious arms that shine
With matchless art, confess the hand divine.
Now to the bloody battle let me bend;
But ah! the relicks of my slaughter’d friend:
In those wide wounds thro’ which his spirit fled,
Shall flies and worms obscene pollute the dead?
That unavailing care be laid aside,
(The azure goddess to her son reply’d):
Whole years untouche’d, uninjur’d, shall remain,
Fresh as in life, the carcass of the slain.
But go, Achilles (as affairs require),
Before the Grecian peers renounce thine ire:
Then uncontroll’d in boundless war engage,
And heaven with strength supply the mighty rage!”

(Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad, book XIX, lines 25-38).

“Thetis bringing the Armour to Achilles” is one of the celebrated American born Benjamin West’s most important neo-classical compositions. In a group of paintings and a variety of preparatory drawings West illustrated the first opening lines of the nineteenth book of Homer’s Iliad, in which the goddess Thetis brings to her son Achilles, who has been grieving over the body of Patroclus, new armour made by Vulcan to replace that belonging to Achilles, which Patroclus had been wearing when he was slain. In this series of paintings dating between 1804-1806 West displays an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of classical armour and ornament. West’s paintings show influences from the neo-classical winds in Europe such as John Flaxman’s illustrations of the Iliad and other French neo-classical paintings he had seen in Paris in 1802.

”Thetis bringing the Armour to Achilles” from 1805 by Benjamin West PRA (1738-1820) in the Royal Academy of Arts, London, inv. no. 04/1466. © Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer Prudence Coming Associates Ltd.
”Thetis bringing the Armour to Achilles” from 1805 by Benjamin West PRA (1738-1820) in the Royal Academy of Arts, London, inv. no. 04/1466. © Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer Prudence Coming Associates Ltd.

In 1805, two different painted versions of the theme of “Thetis Bringing the Armour to Achilles” were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in London (nos. 139 and 151). The quotations from Book XIX of Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad, placed next to the titles of the individual paintings in Henry Grave’s dictionary of contributors to the Royal Academy of Arts from 1906 (as referred to in Ruth Kraemer p. 46), help distinguish the two versions and the relevant drawings. The first quotation is from lines 1-14 describing the arrival of Thetis and her address to her tearful son, while the other one is from lines 25-38 where Achilles expresses his intention to return to the battle. The first painting commissioned by Thomas Hope (1769-1831) in 1805, of where its present whereabouts is unknown, is known from the engravings by William Bond from 1809 and Henry Moses 1811 as well as from the oil sketch owned by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, London (inv. no. 04/1466 from 1805). It was later reworked as West put the composition in a horizontal direction and added the Myrmidons in the left part of the scene (New Britain Museum of American art, Connecticut, inv. no. 1942.1 from 1806).

”Thetis Bringing the Armour to Achilles” from 1804 by Benjamin West (1738-1820) in the collections of LACMA, Los Angeles, inv. no. M.88.182.
”Thetis Bringing the Armour to Achilles” from 1804 by Benjamin West (1738-1820) in the collections of LACMA, Los Angeles, inv. no. M.88.182.

The other painting from the 1805 exhibition, of which the location until recently has been unknown, has been known only through a black chalk sketch on the verso of a sheet in the Piermont Morgan Library (no. 1970.11.89) with two sketches corresponding to the painting in the collection of LACMA (inv. no. M.88.182 from 1804). The version of the subject with a more active Achilles as seen in this drawing is also preserved in a lithograph at the British Museum, London by Henry Corbould from 1820, but in reverse. The dramatic scene shows Achilles who has leapt up, brandishing a sword in his raised right hand. Thetis, semi-nude, approaches with the shield from left. According to Ruth Kraemer (Drawings by Benjamin West and his son Raphael Lamar West, 1975 p. 46) and Helmut von Erffa & Allen Staley (The Paintings of Benjamin West, 1986, pp. 253) this version must be the accompanying painting at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1805. This reappeared painting from a private Swedish collection clearly relates to the Book XIX, lines 25-38, of Pope’s translation of the Iliad as Achilles mourning the death of his comrade in arms, Patroclus, is seated on his friend’s bed when he is visited by his mother Thetis and strikingly is raising his armour to the sky. West clearly shows his skilful painting technique in the well-composed composition. In the powerful scene with the sad and revengeful Achilles West focuses on the strong sentiments of the characters yet rendering details such as the armours and the beautiful bodies in a masterly manner. Widely admired and recognized during his own time he is still today regarded as a true master and one of the most successful American painters ever. The sensational reappearance of this painting now presents a unique opportunity to both reintroduce it in West’s oeuvre as well as a possibility to acquire a magnificent painting with one of West’s most important neo-classical themes.

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