William Roberts

The Return of Ulysses


Not on display

William Roberts 1895–1980
Chalk and watercolour on paper
Support: 305 × 457 mm
frame: 472 × 623 × 28 mm
Purchased 1966

Display caption

Roberts made this study shortly after leaving the Slade School of Art. The subject of Ulysses’s return from the Trojan Wars is derived from Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. Here the geometric style of figuration creates a dynamic composition. This has been achieved through a series of sharp diagonal lines. This approach to picture-making became common with vorticist artists. Roberts later became close to Wyndham Lewis. He signed the vorticist manifesto and contributed to their exhibitions.

Gallery label, October 2020

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Catalogue entry

William Roberts 1895-1980

T00878 The Return of Ulysses 1913

Inscr. ‘William/Roberts.’ b.c.
Chalk and watercolour, 12 x 18 (30.5 x 45.5).
Purchased from Lords Gallery (Knapping Fund) 1966.
Coll. Bought by the first owner from the artist in 1913 or early in 1914; sold by him at Sotheby’s, 14 July 1965 (96); bt. Lords Gallery.
Exh. Tate Gallery, November–December 1965 (117).

A study for the painting of the same title and size in Nottingham Castle Museum (Roberts’ earliest surviving oil painting, which was exhibited at the New English Art Club in the winter of 1913). The study, probably executed shortly after Roberts left the Slade in the summer of 1913, represents a marked change in his style as compared with the Camden Town-like drawings such as ‘Leadenhall Market’ (T00581) made in the first half of the year. In the study the figures are more stylised than in the final painting, the individual features less defined and the colours different and much more emphatic; but in other respects the painting follows the study closely. The steeply inclined perspective, pronounced angularity, jagged shadows, and juxtaposition of animated figures with the strong lines of the table tops, are all characteristic of the work at this date of what was to be the Vorticist circle. The signature was added in 1965.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1966–1967, London 1967.

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