Titian Paints "The Death of Actaeon"
The Death of Actaeon was a late work by Titian, painted in 1559 to 1575 as an oil on canvas.
It is probably one of the two paintings the artist states he has started and hopes to finish (one of which he calls "Actaeon mauled by hounds") in a letter to their commissioner Philip II of Spain during June 1559. However, most of Titian's work on this painting possibly dates to the mid-1560s. The painting was in the Orleans Collection.
The public campaign in 1971 to buy it for the United Kingdom was one of the great successes of Martin Davies's directorship of the National Gallery and it was eventually purchased in 1972 with a special grant and Art Fund and Pilgrim Trust contributions, as well as via funds raised by a public appeal. As catalogue number NG6420, it now usually hangs in the Central Hall. From 22 October to 14 December 2008 and the related painting Diana and Actaeon were the only two exhibits in a Room 1 temporary exhibition to raise funds in the successful appeal to buy the latter for the UK. In this exhibition they were illustrated by the relevant passages from Book 3 of Ovid's Metamorphoses in the John Dryden translation.
As for the sequel to Diana and Actaeon, Titian began, but did not finish the National Gallery’s Death of Actaeon, left in his studio when the plague killed the old man in 1576. For almost two decades he brooded over this late work; we know from documents that over years he began paintings and turned them unfinished to the wall, retrieved them, painted a little more and then hid their faces yet again. It is not unduly fanciful to suppose this canvas to have been the last on his easel. The mood is of a terrible melancholy, a cold wind rustling the sere and yellow leaves of autumn, the exuberant colours of Diana and Actaeon abandoned in favour of a dominant tone sombre enough to match this moment of the tale.