ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
© All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe 2015-16  All artworks copyright the estate of the artist.

death of lucretia

                                 1931

Oil on canvas. 23½ x 19½in. (59.5 x 49cm.) Signed lower right Provenance Sold by the Newlyn Gallery, 1976. David Lay, Penzance, 29 October 2015, lot 137. Private collection. Exhibited London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1935, no. 58. Cheltenham, Municipal Art Gallery, 1936, no. 2. Penzance, Newlyn Gallery, 1976, no. 1. Cornwall County Council Centenary Exhibition, 1989.                                Image courtesy David Lay The suicide of Lucretia was a popular subject for renaissance artists and poets. Lucretia was the wife of a Roman nobleman who was raped by Tarquin, the son of the tyrant Etruscan King of Rome. In her shame, she committed suicide, but only after she had exacted oaths of revenge from her father and husband. The enraged population rebelled against the Etruscans and the Roman Republic was formed as a result. Colquhoun’s painting has an architecural setting of towering walls and archways that appears in other works of this period. The curtain and the wooden flooring give it a theatrical aspect, also seen in Marlowe’s Faust  and Death of the Virgin, all from the same year. Lucretia, having stabbed herself in the breast, lies dying in the arms of Collatinus, her husband. Her bearded father (who bears a strong resemblance to Holofernes in Colquhoun’s slightly earlier painting) prepares to draw his sword to avenge her death. The curious figure on the left is Lucius Junius Brutus: his strange features probably reflect the fact that he had feigned slow-wittedness in order to avoid the distrust of the Tarquin family. The story would have appealed to Colquhoun because it features a powerful woman who used her circumstances to the advantage of her people. For other works of this period that deal with sex and power, see Judith Showing the Head of Holofernes (1929); Judgment of Paris (1930) and Susanna and the Elders  (1930).