Pylades and Orestes was painted by Benjamin West ‘immediately on his arrival in England’. It was first shown at the annual exhibition of the Society of Artists, London, in 1766. The narrative is taken from the third act of a play by the classical author Euripides entitled Iphignea in Tauris
. In the passage depicted by West, Iphignea, a priestess of Diana, stands in judgement before the semi-naked figures of her brother Orestes (in the red) and his cousin and companion, Pylades. They are brought before her, bound, by the shepherd who had previously reported their capture.
The painting was apparently greatly admired in West’s studio even before it was exhibited, although of the many wealthy collectors who came to inspect it none offered to buy it. It was eventually sold the year of its exhibition.
West: Pylades and Orestes Brought as Victims before Iphigenia
1003 x 1264 mm
Oil paint on canvas
Date of work
Presented by Sir George Beaumont Bt 1826
Born in America, Benjamin West made his way to Europe where he spent time painting in Italy before finally settling in England in 1763. According to Sir George Beaumont, West began painting ‘immediately on his arrival in England’. West’s artwork was heavily influenced by neo-classical history paintings by the likes of Gavin Hamilton and Anton Raphael Mengs, whom he had known during his studies in Italy between 1760 and 1763.