Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Continental European after 1800, South West England: Artists and Subjects 10 Is this temple scene by William James Müller a copy of an earlier work?

Topic: Other

I note that a similar painting is recorded in the Towner collection. Also listed as by William James Müller (1812–1845), it is titled 'The Temple of Theseus', and has the same execution date of 1839:

Is one a copy of the other?

The collection note:

'I would suggest that the title of this Calderdale painting is somewhat dubious and has been applied at a later date. The temple is not the Acropolis which has 8 columns: this one has only six.

The paintings do appear identical though the Towner one has better detail on the website image at least.

This is one of a number of paintings from Brighouse Smith Art Gallery and may be from the original collection of Alderman Smith being collected in the late 19th C. The collection contains a few items of dubious provenance that it is not possible to trace further. This could well be a copy of the other painting and may even have been done at a later date. It would be interesting to know what provenance the Towner painting has that may indicate it to be the original. It is also possible that Müller produced more than one copy.'

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now closed. The painting is now listed as after William James Müller (1812–1845) and titled 'The Temple of Theseus'. These changes will be visible on Art UK in due course.

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.


Viv is surely right, the degree of damage to the pediment is almost identical. The temple was/is commonly known as the Temple of Theseus, but more properly as the Temple of Hephaestus. As Edward points out, it is not possible to tell from the images available which, if either, is likely to be the original and which a replica or copy.

Michael Liversidge,

The subject is the Hephaestion, known in the 18th-19th centuries as the Temple of Theseus/Theseion until modern research identified it correctly.

There is a fine watercolour by WJ Muller in the Government Art Collection (where it is identified bizarrely as the Temple of Minerva), signed and dated 1839:

The watercolour is a refined work which seems to be the basis for the Eastbourne painting. Muller did produce more than one version of several of his works, so the Calderdale version could be an autograph repetition, but it is difficult to judge from photographs.

The Hephaestion had a lasting interest in Greek Revival Britain and America - not relevant to your enquiry, but here is a reference to a rather good account of the topic on the Classicist blog.

Yes, the subject must be the Temple of Theseus/Hephaestus in Athens, even though the building is given a more elevated site than it has in reality. Judging from the website images, I suggest that the Calderdale picture is more likely to be copied from the Towner painting, than vice-versa. Muller was much copied and imitated in the nineteenth century and it's just possible that both works are derivations. I'm sure Sheena (Stoddard) will be able to guide us on this.

Oliver Perry,

There are mentions in the Art Journal of paintings of this subjects by Muller being sold at the Exhibition of the Bristol Society of Artists in 1839 (for £10 10s) and 1841 (no price given, to one F. Williams, Esq.).

I suppose these would almost certainly have been dfferent works, though on the other hand one might have been the watercolour.;;
There's also an auction record from 1860. Muller's 'Temple of Theseus' fetched 200 guineas in the sale of an an unnamed, but apparently fairly substantial collection of English paintings at Christie's on MArch 26th:;

I don't believe this Calderdale painting is by Müller. Although he is an uneven artist, especially in his oil paintings, this one is just too awkward and I agree it could be a copy of the Towner's version. Presumably Alderman Smith was collecting in the late 19th century when Müller's prices were extremely high and dealers satisfied demand with copies and also added signatures to other artists' paintings. It can be difficult if not impossible to unravel. Also, Müller didn't paint many finished oils of Greek subjects, preferring the more exotic Egyptian subjects from his 1838/39 trip. A good Greek oil resulting from the trip is Bristol's 'Acropolis' where his precision in architectural drawing is evident:
We would need a better photograph of the Towner's oil, including the signature, to judge that one properly. The sources for Müller (listed in Appendix II of Bristol Museums' 1991 Müller exhibition catalogue) would also have to be searched for titles of finished oils.
Sheena Stoddard

I am happy to support Sheena's opinion that the Calderdale painting is a copy of a Müller original, perhaps the GAC's watercolour or the Towner Art Gallery's oil. As far as the title is concerned, Müller's original title is probably more likely to have been 'The Temple of Theseus'; some curators might be reluctant to retrospectively amend titles to the archaeologically more correct ones, e.g. the Hephaestion!

Edward Stone,

The collection has been contacted about this recommendation.