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Object of the month: April 2015

A.K. Lawrence RA, 'Persephone', 1938

Published 1 April 2015

In this painting, A.K. Lawrence RA captures the mythical figure of Persephone escaping from the cavernous Underworld and dancing into the light, heralding the arrival of spring.

  • A.K. Lawrence trained at Armstrong College, Newcastle upon Tyne and the Royal College of Art in London where he was awarded a travelling scholarship in 1922 and the Prix de Rome in 1923. His subsequent travel and study in Italy greatly inspired and informed his artistic practice; he particularly admired Piero della Francesca and his cycle of frescoes The Legend of the True Cross in San Francesco, Arezzo.

    Lawrence was commissioned to paint the murals at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, the Bank of England in London and St Stephen’s Hall in the Houses of Parliament. Elsewhere, his easel paintings often depicted Classical figures.

    In this work, Lawrence depicts the figure of Persephone. In Ancient Greek mythology, Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of fertility. One day while picking flowers in a meadow, she was spied by Hades, God of the Underworld, who swiftly kidnapped her and took Persephone back to his dark realm. Demeter so despaired at the loss of her daughter that the earth turned barren, crops failed and trees no longer grew. She searched for her daughter day and night. Eventually, Demeter confronted Zeus, who declared that Persephone would be allowed back only if she had not tasted any food while in the Underworld. Persephone was reunited with her mother, but had been secretly fed pomegranate by Hades; and so from then, she spent the seasons of autumn and winter in the Underworld and returned to the land of the living for the other half of the year, heralding the spring and summer.

  • A.K. Lawrence RA, Persephone

    A.K. Lawrence RA, Persephone, 1938.

    Oil on panel. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

  • The figure of Persephone is depicted escaping from the Underworld, shown as the gloomy cavern behind her, stretching and dancing her way towards the light. The clear blue sky and green of the grass at her feet mark the renewal of life and light as she returns. With its bright colour, clarity of line and simplicity of structure, this work displays Lawrence’s emulation of Italian quattrocento style.

    Find out more about A.K. Lawrence RA.
    The artist of the month for April 2015 is George Stubbs ARA.