34 x 16 5/8 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Bequest of Glenn L. and Jayne Seydell Milburn
Currently on Display
About the Artwork
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Barnet—a lover of Greek and Roman art—reimagined the ancient, archetypal stories of Greek mythology. The artist depicted various heroines and goddesses from the myths, including this image of Persephone. In the ancient story, Persephone—the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest—was abducted by Hades, the king of the underworld, and taken there to be his wife. Persephone was allowed to return to the surface for six months of each year and spent the other six as queen of the dead. For the ancient Greeks, Persephone’s fate explained the cycle of the seasons. While Persephone was on earth, Demeter allowed crops to grow, causing spring and summer. While Persephone was in the underworld, Demeter grieved and the earth turned to fall and winter.
Persephone, like many of Barnet’s works, depicts a solitary female figure silhouetted against a natural background. Here, Persephone’s strong, tall body echoes the trees behind her, underlining her link with living things. At the same time, Persephone holds a pomegranate, a symbol of death and a reminder of her eventual return to the underworld. Barnet’s daughter, Ona, posed as Persephone. In Persephone, Barnet’s daughter is both herself frolicking in the woods with her family pets and simultaneously the mythological daughter. Life and death, hope and despair, and the personal and mythological are all woven together.