Grebeny — The Burning Village after Bosch

Copied William T. Wiley, Grebeny - The Burning Village after Bosch, 1994, acrylic, charcoal, and graphite on canvas, 71 78 × 107 18 in. (182.5 × 272.1 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Patrick C. Duffy in memory of Wally Goodman, 2009.33, © 1994, William T. Wiley

Artwork Details

Grebeny — The Burning Village after Bosch
Not on view
71 78 × 107 18 in. (182.5 × 272.1 cm)
© 1994, William T. Wiley
Credit Line
Gift of Patrick C. Duffy in memory of Wally Goodman
Mediums Description
acrylic, charcoal, and graphite on canvas
  • Landscape
  • Disaster — fire
  • Homage — Bosch, Hieronymus
  • Cityscape — Ukraine — Grebeny
Object Number

Artwork Description

Grebeny - The Burning Village after Bosch is the major painting in a series of paintings, drawings, and prints that William Wiley refers to as his Afterburner series. In this painting, Wiley looked to the work of Hieronymous Bosch (about 1450–1516) to express his dismay at the consequences of the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine. His friend Holbrook Teter visited the town of Grebeny, in Belarus, with a group of health professionals several years after the incident and shared his notes with Wiley. Grebeny was a village located well into the zone contaminated by radiation. People who fled the incident had returned because they had nowhere else to settle. The hopelessness and desolation of deformed animals, of people eating food and breathing air that was poisoning them, was so overwhelming to Wiley that his first attempts to convey the devastation seemed totally inadequate. In this painting he dramatically enlarged the detail of a village in flames from the central panel of Bosch's triptych The Temptation of St. Anthony (about 1500) to express his horror at the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

In contrast to the earlier painting in the Smithsonian American Art Museums collection, In the Name of (Not to Worry, It's Juxtaposition),, Grebeny - The Burning Village after Bosch references a current event and invokes another artist's work as an expressive device. The sheer beauty of the painting belies its disturbing message, a paradox typical of Wiley's finest work.

This acquisition was featured in the museum's 2009 exhibition and book What"s It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2009