The Flight of Theseus and Ariadne from Minos, c. 1775-1780
pen, brush and brown (iron gall) ink over graphite on laid paper
27.8 x 41.2 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 9069)
Although he was a successful portrait painter, Romney longed to create History Paintings, taking out his frustration in thousands of drawings full of passion, fire, and manic energy - like this example. After rejecting two graphite studies mainly of the figures, the artist took a thick brush loaded with extra-strength iron gall ink and dashed in on a third sheet the billowing clouds, the ominous sail, and the curved boat that contribute such swirling emotion and drama to the lovers' escape. Romney had many learned friends who could have helped him with the details of the classical story such as the fierce sea battle in the harbour and the black sail,which was always used on the boat carrying the Athenian tribute to the Minotaur and which Theseus forgot to change on his return to Athens, precipitating his father's suicide.