Susanna and the Elders

Illustration © The Estate of John David Roberts. Reproduced with the permission of the William Roberts Society. Catalogue information based on the catalogue raisonné by David Cleall. For this and full details of the exhibitions cited, see the links below. Any auction prices quoted may not include all fees and taxes, such as VAT and Artist's Resale Right charges.

Susanna and the Elders

Susanna and the Elders (aka Susanna or Susannah), c.1926
Oil on canvas, 42.5 cm x 32.5 cm

'There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. He married the daughter of Hilkiah, named Susanna, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord . . . That year two elders from the people were appointed as judges . . . These men were frequently at Joakim's house, and all who had a case to be tried came to them there. When the people left at noon, Susanna would go into her husband's garden to walk. Every day the two elders used to see her, going in and walking about, and they began to lust for her . . . together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone. Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was a hot day. No one was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, "Bring me olive oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I can bathe." They did as she told them: they shut the doors of the garden and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; they did not see the elders, because they were hiding. When the maids had gone out, the two elders got up and ran to her. They said, "Look, the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us. We are burning with desire for you; so give your consent, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away." Susanna groaned and said, "I am completely trapped. For if I do this, it will mean death for me; if I do not, I cannot escape your hands. I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord"' (Daniel 13:1–23 (NRSV)). But the elders' false testimony is exposed, and they are executed in Susanna's place.
PROVENANCE: William Roberts > Mr and Mrs Neville Burston (bought from the artist in 1965) > private collection
EXHIBITION HISTORY: Leicester Galleries (2) 1927 (as Susannah), Southport 1928, Manchester 1928 (as Susannah, 20 gns), Eastbourne 1928, Plymouth 1929 ('The subject is one for a Raphael, or a Titian, but the modern artists apparently sees no beauty in the nude figure, and he has not made the least attempt to define beauty of shape. Studies of anatomy, foreshortening, and perspective, to say nothing of composition and purity of colour, have all been sacrificed in the pursuit of some indefinable object' – Western Morning News, 21 January 1929), Derby 1929, London Artists' Association (1) 1929 (as Susanna, 30 gns), Tate Gallery 1965

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