The Judgement of Paris, initially derived from Homer’s Iliad, was a perennially popular subject for artists from the early 16th century onwards. In his biography More than Shadows Flint acknowledged ‘Everyone has to have a shot at this well-worn theme. This is one of mine.’ At the wedding feast of the Greek hero Peleus and his bride, the nymph Thetis, the snubbed goddess of discord, Eris, had cast a golden apple among the guests as a ‘prize’ for the most beautiful, to which Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all laid vehement claim. Zeus, declining to judge, ruled that the Trojan shepherd prince, Paris, should decide the winner. Each goddess famously promised the prince a tantalising prize: Hera offered to make him king of Europe and Asia; Athena, to give him wisdom and military prowess; and Aphrodite offered him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta married to the Greek king Menelaus. In awarding Aphrodite the apple, Paris receives Helen but also gains the wrath of the Greeks, and thus sparks the Trojan War.
Flint has chosen to depict the moment before Paris makes his decision, portraying him deep in thought with his eyes fixed firmly on the apple before him rather than the three nude goddesses. He appears to be physically as well as mentally weighed down by the responsibility, unable to choose between the gifts on offer, and which of the powerful women to offend. The sheer scale of the painting and Flint’s preference for strong, primary colours overpower the viewer, and his positioning of the nude goddesses and their attendants at the centre of the image invite us to view what Paris cannot. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1935, Flint has updated the classical figures for a modern audience, giving the women short haircuts and the looks of the film stars and models of his day: goddesses of a new era.
It therefore seems unsurprising that one of the first owners of the picture was the multi-millionaire American newspaper magnate and business tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst spent vast amounts of money on art and antiques in the 1920s and 1930s for his celebrated properties San Simeon in California and St Donat's Castle in South Wales. Near insolvency led to the sale of much of his collection in the late 1930s. However, this painting still remained in Hearst’s possession in 1943 when Flint’s biography was published.