Benjamin West

(1738-1820)

"Musidora and her Two Companions" was painted in 1795 and retouched by West in 1806. West’'s painting illustrates a passage that was in the earliest published version of James Thompson’'s famous poem "The Seasons", which appeared between 1726-1730. Lines 1289-1370 of this version recount the story of Damon’'s inadvertent discovery of Musidora and her two companions Sacharissa and Amoret bathing in a stream. In the editions of Thompson’s poem that appear after 1744, Musidora bathes alone.

"Musidora and her Two Companions" was probably shown at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1796, and in 1826 the work was offered for sale by West’'s sons to the United States (Helmut von Erfa and Allen Staley, "The Paintings of Benjamin West" [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986], p. 285).

In 1795, West once again became interested in depicting classical subject matter after a break of more than ten years. In the early 1790s, West also began to create small easel paintings dealing with a variety of subjects. Helmut von Erfa and Allen Staley have speculated that the impetus “for his renewed interest in classical antiquity was probably provided by sight of the outline designs of John Flaxman, particularly those illustrating the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey", published in 1793. His election to the presidency of the Royal Academy may also have encouraged him to return to the type of subject with which he had established his reputation . . . as probably did as well his election in the same year to the Society of Dilettanti, an organization devoted to “Grecian Taste and Roman Spirit” (Ibid., pp. 125, 127).