On the first visit on 12 December 2015 I went looking to see what is on the walls of the public galleries. I am making work about the representation of older women, and I wanted to see how many and what sort there might be in public, not hidden in the vaults. There weren’t many; a few portraits of wives, opera singers and one of the Davies sisters from Gregynog, Margaret (described as ‘a profoundly sympathetic image of a woman at the onset of old age’, I’m not sure why), and that was about it, apart from a satirical cartoon of Lloyd George as a ‘Welsh old lady’ and a Frenchman, seen as equally dreadful things by the cartoonist Edward Tennyson Reed , who was ageist, sexist and racist all in one. The caption underneath reads:
‘Cer-taine lee! I am altogezzer vat you call a French!! Voyez-vous, I just put on ze ‘at of ze Velsh old La-dy and it make a vairy nice top-at of ze boulevardier, n’est ce pas?!!”
The painting that most interested me is by Fuseli, taken from Greek mythology; Teiresias foretells the future to Odysseus, 1780-85. A grey, wraithlike woman wilts between two men. Too etiolated to have many distinguishing features, her age is uncertain, but the label said that she was Odysseus’s mother. Although also dead, Tiresias is depicted in as corporeal a way as Odysseus, but his mother is almost invisible, in monochrome, her arms still crossed over her chest as if she is still in the coffin and has no energy even to move.
Thinking about it on the long drive home with Andrew and Noelle I still wasn’t sure if I had finally chosen my work, but now I know it is right. The more I find out about it the more I am charged by my choice.
Anticleia, maquette, February 2015
Further research told me that the woman’s name was Anticleia (literally ‘without fame’). She was the daughter of Autolycus and Amphithea and mother of
Odysseus by Laertes (though some say by Sisyphus, who seduced or raped her because her father had stolen his sheep). She was the granddaughter of the god Hermes who was the father of her father. She is defined by her family relationships, mostly masculine, and only appears in this section of the Odyssey as a cypher to let Odysseus know what is going on at home with his wife and son.
I hadn’t expected many examples of older women, perhaps a few crones, and I was right. Anticleia is perfect for my purpose, as a suitable representative of invisible, underestimated and overlooked older women (like me).
Henry Fuseli Teiresias Foretells the Future to Odysseus. c.1800. Oil on canvas, 91 x 77.8 cm.
(c) Amgueddfa Cymru / National Museum of Wales
There is a single flower named after her, Anticlea Elegans, or Mountain Death Camas, a small white lily whose flowers are extremely poisonous (pictured here).
I have made a drawing of the whole painting and 4 maquettes, 3 of Anticleia on her own, and one of the group of three.
|Tiresias Foretells the Furture to Odesseus, maquette. March 2015|
I will go back to the museum and draw the original, which might be a bit difficult as it hangs in a sort of corridor. I want to spend more time there, to get more of a feel for the place. It was lovely visiting the museum with the others and going into the vaults and closed rooms. I love the way a place feels different when I am visiting it in a different role than the usual one. I feel more involved with it, more curious about it and more noticing. This engagement with the place is important to me. It is the connections I make, real and imagined, between my own practice and the chosen art work, its history and the concepts it embodies, the people and the building that will feed my work.