This drawing of 1796 was executed soon after West resumed treating classical subects after a gap of over ten years between 1781 and 1794, but no finished painting is known (see H. von Erffa and A. Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven and London, 1986, p. 125-6). Previously unrecorded, it is comparable to a series of Apocalyptic subjects, many of which include similarly winged angelic figures, commissioned by William Beckford to decorate the unrealised Revelation Chamber at Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire (two sketches for this commission were sold in these Rooms, 21 November 2007, lots 33 and 34).
Icarus and his inventor father, Daedalus, were imprisoned by the Minotaur after Daedalus gave Theseus the thread that enabled Theseus to escape from the Labyrinth. Daedalus then made wings for himself and his son to escape, but Icarus ignored his father's advice not to fly too close to the sun; the heat melted the wax holding his wings together and he plunged into what is now known as the Icarian Sea.
We are grateful to Professor Allen Staley for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.