Oleander exhibited 1883 / Unwinding the Skein is not Parcæ / Danæ (Danaë)

Discovered a reference stating Oleander was one of the works exhibited at the Manchester Society of Women Painters exhibition of 1883 (The Guardian, 22 Nov 1883), and declared to be a fine work except for resemblance to the work of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, although the writer doesn’t explain why he considers this a negative point. This confirms the date nicely, as the painting has no history as such, just the date painted on it by Annie and appearances at auctions from 1999 onwards.

I’d suggested that Unwinding the Skein was, possibly, a trial piece for an untraced work called Parcæ, but this is no longer the case. An article in The Queen newspaper, 5 Mar 1890, describes Parcæ as showing “three fisher girls winding wool at a quayside … against a mass of houses darkly purpling up against an evening sky,” very different to the scene in Unwinding the Skein. So the fate of Parcæ remains a mystery, which is a shame because it received much praise in it’s time.

The Parcæ were characters in Roman mythology (related to the Greek Moirai, the Old English Fates and similar trios of characters in European mythologies) who determined the fates of people’s lives by spinning threads, measuring an alloted length and then cutting the thread at the appropriate time.

Annie’s other “…æ” work was the also much praised Danæ (or Danaë), painted around the same time as Parcæ, and similarly known only through written descriptions – “a young and beautiful country girl, wearing a sun-bonnet, and standing close in front of a bank, on which the furze is in full blow (i.e., raining down on the girl – see below).” It has been lost for over a century, the last record of it being from a London exhibition in 1900.

Danaë watching the tower in which she is going to be imprisoned being built, by Edward Burne-Jones, one of the Royal Academy members who lobbied for Annie to be admittied.

Danæ was a character in Greek mythology kept locked up by her father because of a prophecy that he’d one day be killed by her son. Zeus took a liking to Danæ and fertilised her with a shower of rain, causing her to give birth to the hero Perseus. Years later, the king was accidentally hit on the head by a discus thrown by Perseus, killing him instantly and fulfilling the prophecy. One can imagine how the tale might appeal to Annie, with the symbolism of female confinement and need to overthrow the old, patriarchal order.

Jonathan Russell

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