Object Image

Leda and the Swan

The date of production of this work by Smith may coincide with William Butler Yeats's daring sonnet first written in 1923, and later revised. It takes the tale from Greek mythology of the rape of Leda by the god Zeus in the form of a swan.

The poem is dynamic in its lyricism and addresses the violent, sexually explicit nature of the myth. Yeats relates the tale to cycles of history and transformation; the result of the assault on Leda is the birth of Helen of Troy, the destruction of early Greek civilization through war, and the beginning of the modern era. Yeats began the poem during the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923, and the poem is often read as a response to the violence that beset his homeland during that time, and which occupied the early 20th century. Smith himself had served in the First World War, and was badly damaged by the experience for the rest of his life.

No. 2020

Presented by Mrs Mary Keene, 1973

1922 – 25
Oil on canvas
Image and text © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London, 2022

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