Marion Adnams (1898 - 1995):
Medusa Grown Old, 1947
Framed (ref: 9885)
Oil on panel
21 ï¿½ x 15 ï¿½ in. (55 x 39.5 cm)
Provenance: With the artist until 1971; Private Collection
In 1947, Marion Adnams ï¿½ the leading Surrealist in Derby ï¿½ borrowed a small African sculpture from the cityï¿½s museum for closer study.
'One day I made a drawing of her, and, when it was finished, dropped it down on the floor by my chair. By chance, it landed on a drawing I had done the day before ï¿½ a drawing of an ancient English oak tree, with gnarled, twisting branches. They framed the head of the African figure, and there she was ï¿½ Medusa, with snakes for hair.'
Those snakes are the Gorgonï¿½s most luridly distinctive attribute. But Adnams gave her new composite work a more unexpected title, Medusa Grown Old.
In classical myth, Medusa died young. A mortal, unlike her sister- Gorgons, she was beheaded by the youthful hero Perseus, heavily briefed by gods and fates. At her death, Medusa was heavily pregnant by the greatest sea god, Poseidon; sources differ as to her consent. The winged steed Pegasus sprang from his slain motherï¿½s blood, and from Pegasusï¿½ hoof-beat came in turn the Hippocrene spring ï¿½ vital source of all artistic inspiration.
Set apart from any such cyclical destiny, Adnamsï¿½ African Gorgon presides over barren rock and blasted bough, the stricken world of Modernism and its post-war legacy. Adnams kept the sculpture ï¿½long after the picture was finishedï¿½, but then returned ï¿½Medusaï¿½ after an attack of nocturnal panic. ï¿½After that I confined myself to shells and butterfliesï¿½very beautiful and much safer.ï¿½
Commentary by Minoo Dinshaw, author of Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman (2016). He is currently investigating the workings of the god Mercury in seventeenth century England.