Rupert Bunny's unfinished painting, Ceres and Persephone, formerly in the collection of the late Dr Ewan Murray-Will, is the companion work to his highly regarded Rape of Persephone (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra). This related and lively sketch provides an interesting insight into Bunny's working methods, trained as he was in the best European academic traditions. Rapid pencil sketches of figures and ideas for compositions were often followed by compositional oil sketches like this one. They were the penultimate step in the progress towards the larger, formal compositions. Although Bunny followed this practice throughout his life, his best known examples are sketches of the landscapes of the south of France. Painted on almost anything to hand - paper, card, and board - they are among his most spontaneous and sunny works. This study for Ceres and Persephone was sketched during those years of the 1920s when Bunny was actively painting en plein air. The seasonal moment in this study is shared with many an attractive landscape colour note of St Paul, Le Lavandou and Cassis.
When Pluto, King of the Underworld, forcibly took Persephone off to Hades, the consequences were grave and much to the dislike of Jupiter and the other gods of Olympus. In anguish, Persephone's mother, Ceres, Mother Nature, neglected her duties in a fruitless search for her daughter. The seasons declined, as did the bounty of the earth. Jupiter and company cried 'enough'. Pluto was told to release Persephone and allow her to return to her mother. Then all would return to normal as Ceres took up again her allotted tasks of tending nature. Unfortunately Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds during her time in Hades; so the ruling was changed. She could spend some months above, but for the remainder of the year she was obliged to the Underground - hence the seasons. Bunny's sketch captures the moment of impending reunion, of mother and daughter rushing towards rapturous embrace after long separation. Nature is already blossoming in all the colourful celebration of spring.
We are most grateful to David Thomas for assistance in cataloguing this work.
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