Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Tate Britain, Millbank SW1

Dirce's niece Antiope was one of the many Ancient Greek women impregnated by Zeus. She gave birth to twins, Amphion and Zethus, who were abandoned in a cave to be brought up by a shepherd when Antiope was brought back to the family by force. Dirce treated the fallen girl abominably, eventually forcing her to flee to the very cave where her sons were by then grown up men. Dirce followed her, whereupon the young men tied her to the horns of a very furious bull and she was killed.
This charming classical tale is caught in this active sculpture of 1906 by Sir Charles Lawes-Wittewronge Bt. It was his master-work, exhibited at the Royal Academy and followed up by an enormous marble version for the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. The bronze was donated by his widow in 1911 and is placed outside the Tate because it is too big to go in any of the rooms, apparently. The marble version is in the grounds of the former family estate in Hertfordshire.
It is not in a very satisfactory position, really. The composition is clearly made to be seen from all angles, with the young murderers and the unfortunate aunt at each corner of a triangle with the bull in the middle, so its location abutting the side wall of the gallery's portico does not do it justice.
Lawes-Wittewronge was an aristocrat and athlete who changed his name from simply Lawes when he inherited the baronetcy, to honour an ancestor. He was made bankrupt after unwisely suggesting in print that rival sculptor Richard Belt was devoid of talent and that all the artistic merit of his works was provided by foreign assistants smuggled in and out of his studio by night.

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