Richard Westall was apprenticed to a heraldic silver engraver in London in 1779 before joining the Royal Academy Schools in 1785. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1794 and also served as drawing master to Princess Victoria, later Queen Victoria, in the last year of his life. Westall participated regularly in exhibitions, showing over three hundred works at the Royal Academy and seventy at the British Institution. He painted portraits of Queen Victoria, Lord Byron and Richard Ayton and his illustrations for books include an edition of the Bible and of John Milton's poems and he painted genre and Shakespearean scenes. His Patrons included Richard Payne Knight, Thomas Hope, the Earl of Oxford, Samuel Rogers and the Prince Regent.
Richard Payne Knight, who commissioned the present pair of pictures, was a classical scholar and member of The Society of Dilettanti. He came from a wealthy family of iron-masters and inherited a considerably fortune from his uncle. Financial independence allowed him to travel extensively on the continent, particularly in Italy, and he developed a profound interest in classical art. He also sought to encourage contemporary British painting, was a founder of the British Institution, and patronised several leading British artists, paricularly Westall and John Hamilton Mortimer.
The present pictures depict scenes from Ovid; the first shows Flora, goddess of flowers, in the garden given to her by Zephyr. The flora symbolises various mythical figures that were transformed into flowers on their death. Ajax was transformed into larkspur, Clytie became a sunflower and Adonis an anemone. Zephyr, the west wind who brought flowers in the springtime, is represented by the amoretti behind the central figure.
The second scene depicts the wood nymph Pomona, protector of gardens, orchards and fruit in her garden beside her suitor Vertumnus. The god appeared to Pomona in many guises in an attempt to woo her but on each occasion he was rejected. He appeared as a reaper, fisherman and finally as an old woman. Vertumnus was at last successful in winning Pomona's confidence, when, as an old woman, he suggested that like the vine supported by the elm, Pomona should consent to unite with someone. Pomona accepted the advice and at this point Vertumnus appeared as his true self - a handsome youth.