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The Meeting of Jacob and Esau

The Meeting of Jacob and Esau is by Victorian artist George Frederick Watts. Watts was one of the best known painters in Britain during his lifetime and the first artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting originally belonged to an Irish art collector named Wardell, who was also thought to have commissioned it, though it was later sold at Christies in 1880.

The painting depicts a moment in the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau (in the book of Genesis). Here we see Jacob embracing his brother Esau, having been apart for many years. The story tells that Jacob was the younger of the twins and cunningly stole both Esau’s birthright and his father’s blessing. He fled in fear of Esau’s anger. After living with his wicked uncle Laban for many years, Jacob eventually made his fortune and returned to make peace with Esau. On his return the brothers embrace, which is the action depicted here. Commissioned as one of a pair, this painting was originally paired with Lord Leighton’s 'Jonathan’s Token to David', as together these paintings represented both a meeting and a parting.