The Dead Man Restored to Life by Touching the Bones of the Prophet Elisha
One of the most ambitious paintings attempted by an early American artist, this monumental work depicts an episode from II Kings 13:21 in which accidental contact with the bones of the prophet Elisha resurrects a dead Israelite. South Carolinian Washington Allston was one of the best-educated and well-traveled painters of his day, graduating from Harvard College and spending several years in Europe, where the friendship of Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his exposure to British, French, and particularly Italian art exerted strong influences on his style and subject matter. The painting borrows compositional devices from Neoclassical tomb sculpture by Louis-François Roubillac and a High Renaissance altarpiece by the Venetian painter Sebastiano del Piombo, as well as the newly discovered sculptural groups from the pediments of the Parthenon then on view in London - all a testament to Allston's voracious visual appetite. The dramatic scene, with its mélange of quotations from high art, won a prize from the British Institution, a commercial gallery offering twice-yearly exhibitions of contemporary painting and old masters, in 1814. The painting was such a popular success when exhibited in Philadelphia that the directors of the Academy mortgaged the building to pay for its purchase. Allston's highly expressive, evocative landscapes and subject paintings inspired young artists throughout the nineteenth century.