This newly discovered picture, although unsigned, bears many tantalising similarities in style and subject matter to several of the known works of the Birmingham artist Sidney Harold Meteyard.
Representing the story of Penelope, from Homer’s Odyssey, the painting focuses upon the figure of Penelope herself, her loom and the Ionian landscape beyond. A small fleet of ships can be seen upon the horizon, hinting at the return of Odysseus, and the flame burning at the upper left of the painting is symbolic of Penelope’s enduring fidelity. The poppies in the lower left are a symbol of remembrance for her lost love, but also the source of an opiate to help Penelope to forget her grief at his prolonged absence. Their presence may also be a humorous allusion to the name Poppy sometimes being used as a nickname for Penelope.
The parallels to pictorial treatments of The Lady of Shalott are also clear: the loom, the eternal flame and the profile of a beautiful woman set against a rounded window, could just as easily illustrate Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem. Meteyard exhibited two depictions of Tennyson’s eponymous heroine at the Royal Academy, The Lady of Shalott, 1905, and I am Half-Sick of Shadows, Said the Lady of Shalott, 1913 (fig 1.), the latter of which was one of five works by Meteyard included in the ground-breaking The Last Romantics exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1989. Both these pictures bear comparison with the present lot in their composition, symbolism and choice of colour. In each painting the female figure wears a similar blue dress, and the inclusion of flowers in the foreground, as well as the circular arch, the birds and the cypress trees in the distance are all recurring motifs within the artist’s work (compare, for example, The Prince and Elsie, 1910, fig. 2). Meteyard was meticulous in making chalk studies for different elements within his paintings and designs for stained glass, sometimes devoting a single sheet to studies of flowers, or filling an entire sketchbook with studies of hands. This attention to detail is evident in all his paintings, and may help explain the pentimenti within the lower portion of the canvas which reveals how the artist has developed the composition to show the revised position of the sitter's right hand.
Often cited as a disciple of Edward Burne-Jones, this influence is more apparent in Meteyard’s choice of subject than in the execution of his work. Based in Birmingham, Meteyard exhibited over sixty works at the Birmingham Society of Artists between 1898 and 1937, becoming Vice President of the Society in the 1930s and Honorary Secretary of the Society in the 1940s. Despite teaching, studying and working alongside other artists from The Birmingham Group, Meteyard’s art has a style that is distinctly different from most of the other artists from within that circle, the exceptions being Louis Fairfax Muckley (whom he was related to by marriage to his first wife) and Meteyard’s pupil and second wife, the enamellist Kate Eadie, who collaborated with him upon stained glass commissions and modelled for him frequently.
We are grateful to Scott Thomas Buckle for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.