Edith Neff, Demeter Searching for the Lost Persephone

Date
1986
Medium
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Gift of Maria B. Smith, 2014
Dimensions
65 x 77 in.

Neff made a series of four large paintings about the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Hades, the god of the underworld, fell in love with and abducted Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest bounty. Demeter was grief-stricken and furious. Winter settled over the land, and there was no spring planting or harvest. People starved as Demeter searched for her daughter.

Set in North Philadelphia, a group of figures gesture dramatically as the seated Demeter pleads for information about Persephone, though none of the others seem to offer a clear answer or direction. Neff was especially interested in myths that touch on the interaction between our earthly existence and the afterlife.

Patricia Stewart, an art historian and friend of the artist, was the model for Demeter. She recounts posing for Edith:

I didn’t even know in advance I was to be Demeter . . . Edith told me to wear that purplish dress and bring my broad-brimmed straw hat. She seemed to know what was hanging in my closet better than I did! Edith’s knowledge of the iconography and symbolism of classical and Renaissance art was very profound.

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