Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection

1715 or 1720-1791

14 The Farnese Hercules 1742

Red chalk approx. 51.8 x 21.8 (20 3/8 x 8 1/2) on laid paper 52.9 x 36.5 (20 7/8 x 14 3/8) laid down on laid paper 68 x 51.9 (26 3/4 x 20 3/8) with artist's wash-line border 59 x 42.4 (23 1/4 x 16 5/8)
Inscribed in Greek [GLYCON THE ATHENIAN MADE IT - that is, the statue of Hercules] and 'R Dalton F- 1742' on the base of the statue in red chalk


Dalton was apprenticed to a coach-painter in Clerkenwell and afterwards went to Rome to study drawing and painting. Among the earliest of eighteenth-century English painters to make this trip, he was there by March 1741 when he is reported by one Grand Tourist as not only 'by far the best of any of the English artists' there but also making drawings of 'some statues ... in red chalk ... for Lord Brooke' and drawings in black and white chalks on blue paper (seemingly reported by him as a technique of his own invention) of Raphael's frescos in the Loggia of Psyche and the Triumph of Galatea in the Villa Farnesina for the Countess of Hertford (Hertford 1805, vol.3, pp.102, 111). Like many artists in Italy he also dealt in art: in June 1743 he was in contact with Sir Horace Mann, the British envoy in Florence, about a Raphael that was for sale (Walpole 1937-83, vol.18, 1977, pp.235, 239). This is the first sign of the sort of entrepreneurship which later made him extraordinarily unpopular with his colleagues. In 1763, when Dalton, now Librarian to the Prince of Wales, returned to Italy and crossed paths with the engraver Robert Strange, Strange was moved to write to his patron that 'persecution was to haunt me even beyond the Alps, in the form of Mr. Dalton' (Dennistoun, 1855, vol.2, p.3). Dalton never lacked for good patrons, however, for in 1749 he had travelled to Greece, Turkey and Egypt with Lord Charlemont, and in 1778 George III made him the surveyor of the Royal pictures.

In all fourteen chalk drawings, all about the same size, made by Dalton from Antique sculptures are known, with thirteen of them in the Royal Collection (Opp? 1950, no.163): six, including another drawing of the Farnese Hercules, are dated 1741 and three 1742. The artist's wash-line border on this drawing suggests that it was one made for Lord Brooke. Dalton would have copied these marbles, not just because it was a commission but also for a very practical purpose: as records of great works of art they would inform his own art or any teaching he might do when he got back home. A portrait by Johann Zoffany in the Tate Gallery shows Dalton with such a drawing in his hand as he instructs his niece ([T01895] Tate Gallery 1978, pp.44-5) and in 1770, just as the market for such images increased as the teaching of the recently founded Royal Academy emphasised the use of classical prototypes in pictures, John Boydell published a set of twenty prints after Dalton's drawings, including one from the Hercules (Bignamini and Postle 1991, no.23). The colossal statue of the Hercules which Dalton drew in the Farnese Palace was known throughout Europe and commented upon and copied by generations of writers and artists (Haskell and Penny 1981, pp.229-32). In Dalton's time it was not uncommon for the great and the good to be credited with classical attributes: the 1770 print of Hercules was dedicated by Dalton to Chichester Fortescue Esq. - with Hercules' legendary strength and honour linked to a surname which translates as 'strong shield' - just as he dedicated his print of Apollo, the god of medicine, to Dr Mead.

In the very act of copying, and also by drawing with red chalk, Dalton was, of course, self-consciously setting out to emulate those Renaissance draughtsmen who had used the same medium (as, indeed, they had used black and white chalk on blue paper) for the same purpose. Unlike Rubens, for example, who drew from the Farnese Hercules when he was in Italy in 1605-8 and reworked the subject for a later drawing of Hercules Standing on Discord (British Museum), Dalton never put his work to such a use for he never ventured into the area of history painting: in fact, Edward Edwards (1738-1806) wrote that Dalton 'as an artist never acquired any great powers' (Edwards 1808, p.182).

Robin Hamlyn

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.64 no.14, reproduced in colour p.65