SUSANNA AND THE ELDERS, 1930
Oil on canvas. 30 x 21in. (76.2 x 53.3cm.)
Signed upper right.
The Simon Carter Gallery, Woodbridge, Suffolk, late 1970's
Sotheby’s, London, 14th March 1979, lot 88.
London, New English Art Club, 1932.
Woodbridge, Suffolk, Simon Carter Gallery.
London, Parkin Gallery, 1977, No. 2.
According to the Parkin Gallery catalogue, the work was exhibited at the Penzance retrospective, 1976. If so, it was ex-catalogue.
The painting depicts an episode from the Book of Daniel in which two elders hatch a plot to confront and seduce Susanna whilst she is bathing by threatening to accuse her of adultery.
Susanna stands in a stream, naked and at ease. She makes no attempt to conceal her nakedness. The elders, in modern clothing, loll on the stream bank watching her. In the background, a powerful waterfall issues from a cave. In the fields beyond, cut off from the figures in the foreground by a large bridge, a village is visible, It contains a prominent church with a spire.
Susanna stands next to the tall stump of a tree. A small rock like a miniature menhir is set in the earth immediately adjacent to one of the elders.
No artist in the twentieth century could paint a naked woman next to a standing tree trunk without presence of a phallic-shaped rock within easy stroking reach of the elder’s right hand be an accident. The waterfall reinforces the sexually charged nature of the composition.
The fact that the tree trunk has been lopped prefigures the emasculation imagery of later works such as The Pine Family (1940)and Gouffres Amers (1939). The masturbatory allusion is another reference to male sexual inadequacy.
The episode was a popular subject for artists who generally accentuated the erotic and voyeuristic aspect of Susanna’s plight as she attempted to conceal her nakedness. Colquhoun’s Susanna, however, shows no defensiveness, shame or modesty. This is an assertive, confident Susanna who accepts the dominance of neither men nor church. Here it is the men who are vulnerable, surrounded by emblems of their impotence and inadequacy.