George Richmond

Elijah and the Angel

1824 or 1825

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
George Richmond 1809–1896
Ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 140 × 140 mm
Purchased 1976

Display caption

The subject of this drawing comes from chapter 19 of the First Book of Kings. Elijah has journeyed into the wilderness and there 'requested for himself that he might die'. He awakes from his sleep under a juniper tree to find an angel summoning him to refresh himself with 'a cake baken on the coals' and 'a cruse of water'. The theme of a failing spirit being regenerated is emphasized by the presence of a rising sun in the distance. This drawing owes a debt to the fifteenth-century German engravings which were much admired by the Ancients. It is close, in many details, to some of Samuel Palmer's drawings of 1824.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T02102 ELIJAH AND THE ANGEL 1824 or 1825

Inscribed ‘1824-or-5’ b.r.
Pen and black ink, with pink wash on Elijah's tunic, on paper, 5 1/2 × 5 1/2 (14 × 14)
Purchased at Sotheby's (Grant-in-Aid) 1976
Prov: From an album of early drawings compiled by the artist and given by him on 28 March 1891 to his eldest son, Rev. Canon Thomas Knyvett Richmond; by descent to Mrs Miriam Hartley; a selection from the album sold Sotheby's 18 November 1976 (171–87), including this drawing (185, as ‘An angel summoning a seated traveller’), bt. John Baskett for the Tate Gallery.

Richmond himself described the album in which this drawing was formerly pasted as a ‘book of early scraps’. It included (besides a small pencil drawing of ‘Christ praying in the desert’ by Welby Sherman, lot 179 in Sotheby's 1976 sale) drawings made by Richmond between 1823 and 1830, when he went to study in Paris. They reveal Richmond as in those years very susceptible to the heady influences of Palmer, whom he probably met as early as 1822 or 1823, of Fuseli, under whom he began to study at the Royal Academy in December 1824, at the age of fifteen, and above all of Blake, whom he met for the first time the following year, later recording that he felt as if he had been ‘walking on air...and talking to the prophet Isaiah’ (A. M. W. Stirling, The Richmond Papers, 1926, p.24).

This drawing, which is unfinished, was inscribed by the artist, presumably many years later when he was compiling the album, ‘1824 - or - 5’; it must therefore have been drawn when he was fifteen or sixteen. The subject is taken from I Kings 19: 4–8, a story of the regeneration of a failing spirit: Elijah, having journeyed into the wilderness and there ‘requested for himself that he might die’, awakes from his sleep under a juniper tree to find an angel summoning him to refresh himself with ‘a cake baken on the coals’ and ‘a cruse of water’. In Richmond's drawing, the ‘cake baken on the coals’ is only very lightly sketched in (as a squareish loaf); the ‘cruse of water’ is more elaborately drawn, and decorated with what may be a representation of the previous moment in the story, where the angel hovering over Elijah's sleeping form is about to touch him and say ‘Arise and eat’. A huge sun rising in outline behind a hill in the background symbolizes regeneration.

The chief influence in T02102 appears to be from fifteenth-century German engravings; Richmond's spiky-branched, scaly-barked juniper tree and the lively little stoat under a foreground plant may have been inspired by Schongauer's engraving The Flight into Egypt, or Dürer's later version of it. Such engravings were much admired by the ‘Ancients’, and are recurring influences in Palmer's sketchbook of 1824 (coll. British Museum); T02102 is particularly close to p.27 (? ‘Rebecca at the well’) of that sketchbook not only in its mood and the manner of its figure-drawing but also in details such as the exotic tree, the foreground plants and the sun rising in the background. No painting by Richmond of ‘Elijah and the Angel’ is known.

The contents of Richmond's ‘book of early scraps’ were dispersed in successive sales at Sotheby's, 1976–8. Both T02102 and T02103 (below) were purchased at the first of these sales, 18 November 1976. Other drawings from the album were sold on 28 July 1977, 24 March 1977, 24 November 1977, 2 March 1978 and 16 March 1978; two of the drawings, bought in, were offered again on 27 July 1978.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979

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