Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation
Pen and ink over black chalk with touches of red and blue chalk on laid paper
Purchased through the Julia L. Whittier Fund; D.959.104
Benjamin West was the first American-born artist to pursue artistic studies abroad and achieve international standing in his profession. Although he spent most of his career in England— where he won the patronage of no less a figure than King George III—he exercised a tremendous influence on American art through the work of the many artists who studied with him overseas. Although West typically created many preparatory drawings for his paintings, the size and degree of finish in this work, along with the presence of a signature, suggest that it was conceived as an independent composition. West created many such large-scale, highly worked drawings during the 1780s, a particularly fruitful and successful period in his career. Known initially for his portraits and theatrical history paintings, he had turned his attention increasingly to biblical subjects beginning in the 1770s. In this elegant work, which reveals in its restrained passages an emerging neoclassicism, a single fine line of ink outlines the angel’s profile, and orderly networks of hatched chalk markings model the face, neck, and hands. By contrast, sweeping calligraphic strokes of the pen delineate further details and add a sense of energy and verve to the composition. In the biblical narrative, God sent the archangel Gabriel to announce to Mary that she was to be the mother of Christ. While there is no documentation supporting the early identification of this angel as Gabriel, his rapt attention, heavenward gaze, and tender gesture could suggest the receipt of such an important sacred message.
Last Updated: 4/14/09