The Rape of Europa
William Hilton the younger RA (Lincoln 1786 - London 1839)
The subject is taken from the Roman poet Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. The god Jupiter fell in love with a princess, Europa, and disguising himself as a bull, came to where she played by the seashore with her attendants. Beguiled by the bull, she garlanded him with flowers and climbed upon his back. Jupiter then bore her off to sea, carrying her to Crete, where he resumed his normal shape and ravished her. This picture was clearly inspired by Titian’s of the same subject. Now in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, it was then in the collection of the Earl of Darnley, and had been exhibited at the British Institution in 1816. Hilton is best known today for his portraits of the poets John Keats and John Clare. However, he was successful in his lifetime for his history paintings in the ‘grand manner.’ This work was painted in 1818 for Sir John Leicester.
Oil painting on canvas, The Rape of Europa by William Hilton the younger RA (Lincoln 1786 - London 1839), 1818. Europa is in white, on the bull, centre, looking profile left towards the receding shore. At her feet Nereids are swimming and at right are Tritons. Above is Jove's (Jupiter/Zeus) eagle. According to a translated version in to English of Ovid's Metamorphoses: "In flow'ry wreaths the royal virgin dress'd His bending horns, and kindly clapt his breast, Till now grown wanton, and devoid of fear, Not knowing that she press' the Thunderer, She placed herself upon his back, and rode O'r fields and meadows, seated on the God. He gently march' along, and by degrees Left the dry meadows and approach' the seas, Where now he dips his hoofs, and wets his thighs, Now plunges in, and carried off the prize. The frighted Nymph looks backward on the shore And hears the trembling billows round her roar; And still she holds him fast .. Her train of ruffling garments flies behind, Swells in the air, and hovers in the wind." This was Hilton's first secular commission. It would have been inspired by Titian's Rape of Europa now in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston but then in the collection of the Earl of Darnley at Cobham Hall, who had just acquired it himself from Thomas Noel Hill, 2nd Lord Berwick (1770 - 1823) of Attingham Park (NT). Jupiter and Europa, as it was then called, was exhibited only two years before, in 1816 at the British Institution, a private exhibiting society with the aim of encouraging native talent and showing living artists alongside Old Masters.
Painted for Sir John Leicester, later Lord de Tabley (1762-1827), in 1818 for 250 gns.; bought by Thomas Phillips (1770 - 1845) who had toured Itlay with the artist in 1825, at Leicester's posthumous Christie's sale on 7 July 1827, lot 51 for 300 gns. for the 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837); thence by descent, until the death in 1952 of the 3rd Lord Leconfield, who had given Petworth to the National Trust in 1947, and whose nephew and heir, John Wyndham, 6th Lord Leconfield and 1st Lord Egremont (1920-72) arranged for the acceptance of the major portion of the collections at Petworth in lieu of death duties (the first ever such arrangement) in 1956 by HMTreasury; formal transfer of ownership on 20 September 1990 by HMTreasury to the National Trust.
Petworth House, The Egremont Collection (acquired in lieu of tax by HM Treasury in 1957 and subsequently transferred to the National Trust)
Marks and inscriptions
Recto: Tablet on bottom of frame, inscribed. 30. THE RAPE OF EUROPA HILTON
Makers and roles
William Hilton the younger RA (Lincoln 1786 - London 1839), artist
Bucklow 1993 Spike Bucklow, 'The 3rd Earl of Egremont, a Patron and his Portrait: New Light on Petworth' Apollo, June 1993, pp.363-6 Bolton 1845 Henry Restra Bolton (1792-1871), Miscellaneous papers. Petworth House. Account of Pictures cleaned from the first of October to the 29th October (inclusive) 1849 by H.R.Bolton. Petworth House Archives, PHA. 7524.18. [small sketch] 30. 76 . 58. Collins Baker 1920 C.H.Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures, in the possession of Lord Leconfield, privately printed by the Medici Society, London, 1920, 30 Hall 1960-62 Douglas Hall, 'The Tabley House Papers', Walpole Society, XXXVIII, 1960-62, no.32, pl.33b Boase, 1959: T.S.R.Boase, English Art 1800-1870, Oxford,1959, p.164