A.K. Lawrence RA, Persephone, oil on panel, 1938
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

Object of the Month - April 2015


A.K. Lawrence RA (1893-1975), Persephone, oil on panel, 1938

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 for the murals at Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, the Bank of England and St Stephen's Hall in the Houses of Parliament and for his easel paintings favoured classical subjects. 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 as 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 the other half of the year, heralding the spring and summer.

The figure of Persephone is depicted escaping out of 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.