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My favourite painting at Sudley House

6 August 2007 by Lisa

Looking for inspiration for writing or for creating your own artwork can sometimes be hard in a busy city, so I tried going out to see the exhibitions at Sudley House, to see if this would help. Having not been at National Museums Liverpool for long, I had never been, even though it is tucked away in leafy Mossley Hill, not far from my house. After getting a brief video ‘talk’ off a George Holt look-a-like, I started to take in the vast personal collection of work belonging to the man himself. In the Garden Hall, I found what turned out to be my favourite painting in the gallery; Circe and Scylla, by John Melhuish Strudwick.

Image of Circe and Scylla by John Melhuish Strudwick

The painting tells the story of two characters, Circe and Scylla, from the Greek myth as retold by the Roman author Ovid. It is a tale of jealousy and revenge, as the enchantress Circe poisons the water that Scylla is about to bathe in – because Scylla has captured the affections of the man Circe wants. I don’t have a degree in fine art or anything like that, but I like the painting because of the mysterious and foreboding feeling it evokes, with the dark and mist and also because of the amazing detail that you can only see if you get up really close. Luckily at Sudley House, you are able to do this!

On the bottom right hand corner you can see the poison dropping into the river, with tiny bubbles and splashes as it hits the surface – I nearly missed the evil looking bat, lurking in the darkness nearby. I think you can tell that Circe is intent on bad things, not only by her expression, but also by the way her hand is clenched at her dress. I think details like these are really great in a painting.

I like to look at paintings before reading about them, to decide what I think the painting is about – my guess was something representing heaven and hell, you can probably see why I thought that. The other thing I like is that Scylla reminds me of Boticelli’s Venus as well, with those robes and flowing hair.

It definitely inspired me to look up the myth, to see what happens next – Scylla is supposed to turn into a sea monster! I’d recommend going to have a look as you can’t really appreciate it from a photograph and it is really good being able to go to a gallery and see such interesting paintings up close.

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