This painting is an example of the historical and mythological subjects the artist liked to paint. It tells part of the story of Penelope who was the wife of the King of Ithaca, Odysseus. Odysseus left his wife to fight in the Trojan Wars and was away for nearly twenty years. Penelope did not know if he was still alive and during this period attracted many suitors. In order to delay her choice of a new husband, Penelope said she could not marry until she had woven a fine burial cloak for her elderly father-in-law, Laertes. Every day she wove at her loom and every night she sat unravelling her work, as can be seen in this painting. However, her plan was uncovered and Penelope announced she would marry the man that could string Odysseus' bow. Unbeknown to her, Odysseus returned disguised as a beggar. He took part in the contest, won it and killed all the suitors. Following conservation work on this painting in 2000, a number of pentimenti are clear. They help to show how the painting must have evolved in Muschamp's mind. There was once a larger Penelope, sitting more upright on the chair, and her yarn basket has also been adjusted in size.
Where to see this painting?
Lancaster City Museum
Market Square, Lancaster, Lancashire, England, LA1 1HT
If you are planning a visit to see this painting, check with the collection first. Paintings can be moved at short notice.
More on this painting
gift from staff and students, the Storey Institute, 1923