The Return of Ulysses

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.

The Return of Ulysses

The Return of Ulysses, c.1913
Oil on canvas, 30 cm x 45 cm

In Homer's Odyssey, after a difficult ten-year journey back from the Trojan War the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses in the Latin form) eventually arrives disguised as a beggar at his home of Ithica, where his faithful wife, Penelope, is besieged by unruly suitors, with 'strangers grossly maltreated, and men dragging the women servants about the house in an unseemly way, wine drawn recklessly, and bread wasted all to no purpose' (Book 16, ll. 108–11, tr. Samuel Butler, 1900). He reveals himself to his son, Telemachus (or Telemakhos), and together they plot the destruction of the suitors at a banquet in the palace. '[The suitors] went inside and laid their cloaks on the benches and seats. They sacrificed the sheep, goats, pigs, and the heifer, and when the inward meats were cooked they served them round . . . Telemakhos deliberately made Odysseus sit in the part of the room that was paved with stone; he gave him a shabby-looking seat at a little table to himself, and had his portion of the inward meats brought to him, with his wine in a gold cup' (ibid., Book 20, ll. 248–61). Odysseus alone succeeds in the feat of archery that Penelope sets to determine whom she will give in to, and then (with the help of his son and two faithful servants) slays the suitors and reveals himself to his wife.
PROVENANCE: Sir Edward Marsh > Contemporary Art Society (1953) > Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham (1954)
EXHIBITION HISTORY: New English Art Club 1913 ('a clever invention in the Cubist convention, which has been handled with more dynamic force by Mr. Wyndham Lewis' – The Times, 1 Dec. 1913), Chenil Galleries 1923, Whitechapel Gallery 1929, M. Knoedler & Co. 1930, Venice 1932 (as Ritorno di Ulisse), Tate Gallery 1952, Leicester Galleries (2) 1953, Tate Gallery 1965, Hayward Gallery 1974, Sheffield 1975, Liverpool 1976, Royal Academy 1987, Stuttgart 1987, Newcastle 2004, Ghent 2007, Rotterdam 2011

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