ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
© All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe 2015-17  All artworks copyright the estate of the artist.

dance of the nine maidens

1940 

Seven watercolour and pencil drawings of a nude dancing figure contained within the outline of a stone. Each 17½ x 11¼in. (45 x 29cm.), orientations vary. Two signed and dated: ‘Colquhoun/40’ Provenance NT. In what must be a folk memory of the fertility rites once performed at stone circles, many sites are associated with myths of girls turned to stone as punishment for dancing on the Sabbath. If Colquhoun was thinking of a specific stone circle, there are three within the Lands End peninsular which have the name Nine Maidens: those at Boscawen-un; Tregeseal and Boskednan, none of which actually has nine stones. There is also a stone row near Bodmin called the Nine Maidens which does have nine stones. The number nine may be a distant memory of a ritual that featured repetition rather than a literal counting of the number of stones in the monument. The references to petrifaction as a punishment are believed to be early Christian propaganda. These works are amongst the earliest in which Colquhoun dealt with a Cornish subject. In each watercolour, she has drawn the figure and the outline of the stone such that the figure is contained within. The notion of transformation would have appealed to her surrealist and alchemical sens- ibilities. Each phallic menhir contains within its form a female figure: two genders in one; the hermaphrodite whole.