Prometheus Bound

WAG 4039


One of a group of 18 known as the ‘Liverpool Cartoons’, this drawing's subject is from Aeschylus's play 'Prometheus Bound'. This had been translated by the Greek scholar, the Rev. Robert Potter in 1778 and read enthusiastically by Romney. There is a smaller, more vigourous version of this composition by Romney in graphite, ink and wash, dated 1779-1780, which in 2002 was with Agnew's, London. Promtheus attempted to steal fire from the gods and was punished by being chained alive to a rock where an eagle pecked at his liver. ‘Cartoon’ here refers to the word in its old sense of a preparatory, full-size drawing for a later, finished painting. They are constructed of several pieces of handmade paper pieced together to create a large surface on which to work. The 18 cartoons in the Walker’s collection are the only ones surviving of groups of drawings Romney made exploring scenes from literature and mythology. It is likely that Romney explored the cartoon form over a period of ten years, if not longer, from about 1775. Romney’s son John (1757-1832) wrote to William Roscoe (1753-1831) that the cartoons ‘were executed in the winter evenings by candlelight as a relaxation when Mr. Romney’s mind had been jaded by portrait painting during the day’.