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Oil painting - The Upas, or Poison-Tree, in the Island of Java
  • The Upas, or Poison-Tree, in the Island of Java
    Danby, Francis, born 1793 - died 1861
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The Upas, or Poison-Tree, in the Island of Java

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1820 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Danby, Francis, born 1793 - died 1861 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:

    1382-1869

  • Gallery location:

    On short term loan out for exhibition

This legendary subject comes from Erasmus Darwin's poem 'The Loves of the Plants' (1789).
'There is a poison-tree in the island of Java, which is said by its effluvia to have depopulated the country for twelve or fourteen miles...condemned criminals are sent to the tree...and are pardoned if they bring back a certain quantity of the poison'.

Physical description

This work was inspired by the writings of Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), especially his "Loves of the Plants", which included an account of the Upas tree. A note on lines 237-8 of canto III reads, "There is a poison-tree in the island of Java, which is said by its effluvia to have depopulated the country for 12 or 14 miles round... With the juice of it the most posonous arrows are prepared; and, to gain this, the condemned criminals are sent to the tree... to get the juice...and are pardoned if they bring back a certain quantity of poison. But...not one in four are said to return. Not only animals of all kinds... but all kinds of vegetables also are destroyed by the effluvia of the noxious tree...the face of the earth is quite barren and rocky intermixed only with the skeletons of men and animals, affording a scene of melancholy beyond what poets have described or painters have delineated".

Francis Danby follows Erasmus Darwin's description, depicting a rocky landscape with the skeletons of criminals and animals, and two criminals, one dead and the other hiding his face in horror, with their boxes for collecting the poison.

This was Danby's first exhibited work in London. The work was much admired, but failed to sell, probably due to its size.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (painted)

Date

ca. 1820 (painted)

Artist/maker

Danby, Francis, born 1793 - died 1861 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas

Dimensions

Height: 160.8 cm estimate, Width: 235.4 cm estimate, Height: 204 cm frame, Width: 270 cm frame, Depth: 14 cm frame

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'The Upas, or Poison-Tree, in the Island of Java', Francis Danby, ca. 1820

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Parkinson, R., Victoria and Albert Museum, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, London: HMSO, 1990, pp. 62-64
Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain: Being an account of more than forty collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Mss, etc, London, 1857, pp.177.

Materials

Oil paint; Canvas

Techniques

Oil painting

Categories

Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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