This English Neoclassical chimneypiece is made of white statuary and yellow Siena marbles. It is designed in the so-called George III Roman fashion--popular in England with architects such as Thomas Leverton (1743-1824) during the third quarter of the eighteenth century--and employs classical devices loosely associated with antiquity. The side jambs are carved with graduated bellflower chains hanging from bow-knots; in the entablature frieze are squat, covered urns. The central tablet depicts "Hercules at the Crossroads," also known as "The Choice of Hercules," as told in the Memorabilia by Xenophon (ca. 430-354 BCE). Before undertaking his twelve Labors, Hercules was approached by two beautiful women, one of whom offered him a life of ease and pleasure and the other one of duty and labor. In the tablet, the nearly nude Hercules, clothed in a lion skin and holding a gnarled club, is led by the vituous woman, who gestures up the side of a steep hill. The other woman, holding a victor's laural wreath in her hand, languishes on the opposite hillside and gestures to Hercules to join her.
Several related English chimneypiece tablets employing the theme of "Hercules at the Crossroads" are known. One was carved by the sculptor Thomas Carter the Younger in 1768 for Saltram, Devon (W.D. John and Katherine Coombes, Paktong: the non-tarnishable chinese 'silver' alloy used for 'Adam' firegrates and early Georgian candlesticks [Newport, 1970], fig. 28). Two others have been sold by Christie's: Newton Park House Sale, September 20, 1976, lot 77, and Sale 5730, September 14, 2005, lot 96.
Purchased from Kipps, Ltd., New York, NY, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1/2/1922.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1/2/1922-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.