Inscribed with notes in pencil over image: ‘Purple / blue / purple – purplish white / white – purple grey / yellow’. Verso bears second sketch of two women. In fine condition aside from tape along right edge of sheet. Study for ‘Demeter and Persephone’ (1917), exhibited at the Bryson Burroughs Memorial Exhibition in 1935, Metropolitan Museum of Art (#26).
In ancient Greek mythology, Demeter was the goddess of mother earth, the harvest, grain, the preserver of marriage and the sacred law, and the bringer of the seasons. In Ancient Roman mythology, her name changed to Ceres.
Demeter’s daughter, Persephone (Proserpine in Roman mythology), is one of the central figures in the Eleusinian Mysteries, the initiation ceremonies held every five years for the cult of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis in Ancient Greece. According to the myth, Persephone was a beautiful girl and attracted the attention of the Hades (Pluto), God of the underworld. One day while Persephone was playing with nymphs (later turned into sirens by Demeter as punishment), when Hades abducted her and made her his wife. Life and happiness came to a standstill as the depressed Demeter mourned and searched for her lost daughter. Zeus, unable to bare the dying earth, forced Hades to return Persephone and sent Hermes (a God who had the task of escorting the dead to Hades, amongst many other responsibilities) to go and lead her out of the underworld. However, before Hermes could arrive, Hades tricked Persephone in to eating four pomegranate seeds, insuring that she would have to spend four months of the year with him. As a result, for four months a year, the earth goes cold and all vegetation dies, explaining the meaning behind the winter season.
In this particular drawing, Burroughs has depicted the young and beautiful Persephone to the left, taking a bite of a pomegranate (some accounts of the legend have her doing this by her own accord) as a sorrowful Demeter, bearing the fruits of the harvest, looks away crying.