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Illustration Art, Theseus and the Minotaur, J. Watson Davis, Antique Drawing


John Watson Davis (1870-1959)
Theseus and the Minotaur
for Tanglewood Tales by Nathanial Hawthorne
American: c. First Half 20th C.
Black, white and grey watercolor and gouache on illustration board
Signed lower right, inscribed lower left
7 x 11 inches, overall
5.5 x 9 inches, image
10.75 x 14.5 inches, framed

Illustration of the classical mythological story of Theseus and the Minotaur for an edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales (1853), a classic children’s book of Greek myths and legends. The artist noted in the margins that the illustration belonged on page 50 with this caption: “Without more words on either side, There ensued the most awful fight between Theseus and the Minotaur that ever appeared beneath the sun or moon.” Theseus is a hero of Greek mythology. In one of his adventures, he vows to slay the Minotaur, a monster with a bull’s head and a man’s body living within a labyrinth on the island of Crete. The Minotaur feasts annually on a human sacrifice of seven Athenian boys and seven girls. Determined to put an end to this, Theseus asks to be substituted for one of the boys. He locates the Minotaur within the labyrinth and kills it before it can harm anyone else. Then he leads the Athenian children out of the maze and they sail home with much rejoicing. The drawing is mounted in a decorative gilded and painted wood frame.

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John Watson Davis was born in New York but received his artistic training in Paris, where his family had moved when he was 10. Returning to New York in his twenties, he embarked upon a prolific career as a book illustrator for the next 60 years, from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. He signed his work “J. Watson Davis” to avoid being confused with other artists named John Davis. Davis created artwork for Zane Grey novels, Sherlock Holmes tales and Bluebeard. He is also known for his religious illustrations depicting missionary and humanitarian activities of Catholic nuns and priests. These were commissioned by various Catholic organizations, especially the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which published them on a series of calendars in the late 1940s. The Georgetown University Art Collection featured their collection of Davis’ religious drawings in an exhibition that opened in late 2002.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall toning, wear and soiling associated with a working example of illustration art.


Alan, David C. “Religious Drawings by John Watson Davis.” Georgetown University Art Collection. 2002. davis_02/intro.htm (5 May 2003).

Additional information


20th Century