T02048 RAPE SCENE WITH GREEN, YELLOW AND RED WOMAN, BLUE GROUND c.1946–47
Pen and ink with watercolour on paper, 7 1/2 × 11 (19 × 28)
Purchased from the Artist's Estate (Grant-in-Aid) 1976
Frances Richards told the compiler that the theme of ‘The Rape of the Sabines’ arose directly out of Richards' work on a three-part lithograph illustrating Dylan Thomas's poem ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’, commissioned by Poetry London in 1945 and published in the magazine that year (Vol.3). This poem had also inspired his earlier ‘Cycle of Nature’ series, with its plant and animal-derived images of fruitfulness and sexuality, as well as an oil of that title.
According to J.R. Webster (op. cit.), the theme represented ‘a violent consummation of his wartime preoccupations with birth and death’. Frances Richards believes, however, that Ceri's interest lay primarily in the challenge the subject presented to make a large number of complicated figure drawings. These were of course purely imaginary, although the artist, who taught life drawing for, many years (at the Royal College, The Slade and Chelsea), also drew constantly from the live model. Frances Richards added that her husband was ‘very puritanical’. Sanesi (op. cit) has plausibly suggested that the artist's choice of this particular theme may also relate to his contemporary interest in Delacroix, and to his ‘Paraphrase of Delacroix's “The Lion Hunt”’, of 1944.
‘The Rape of the Sabines’ preoccupied Ceri Richards for over three years (1945–9), and beyond, issuing a number of works exhibited at the Redfern Gallery in October 1948. These included nine line drawings, three watercolours and a total of nine oil studies, representing only a fraction of his output on this theme. In addition, Sanesi reproduces a number of black and white and colour monoprints for the series (1947) and a colour lithograph (1949) printed for the Redfern by the Curwen Press. In later years the artist returned to the theme in a number of works.
The Tate's ten small watercolours do not seem to have been shown as a set (i.e. mounted together) before the Fischer Fine Art exhibition of 1972, although they were already so mounted at that date. It is unlikely that the artist originally intended them to form a self-contained group, since the works are not all dated and those that are differ in date. Also unidentified watercolours on this theme of corresponding dimensions were included individually in earlier exhibitions, notably at the Whitechapel in 1960, which included eight such works and at Marlborough New London in 1965, where 12 ‘Rape’ drawings, including T02049 and T02051 (reproduced in the catalogue p.34) were shown.
In addition to his many pen and watercolour studies (some of the latter quite large and elaborate) Richards made at least five large scale oils on the ‘Rape’ theme between 1946–9. All are complex compositions involving several figures. The most important of these are now in the collections of Birmingham City Art Gallery, The Very Rev Walter Hussey, and Mrs H.R. Fischer. In 1964 the artist was commissioned to paint a mural on a related theme, ‘The Rape of Europa’ for the Europa Hotel, London.
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979