OIL PAINTING: Lilith
In selecting the subject of Lilith, Collier may have been thinking of Flaubert's novel Salammbo of 1862, with its magnetic description of heroine and serpent. But a more specific source for Lilith itself was D.G. Rossetti's sonnets "Eden Bower" and "Body's Beauty", the latter composed by the artist to accompany his painting Lady Lilith of 1864-8. The fascination of Lilith for Rossetti resided in her legendary malignancy and amorality: according to Talmudic myth she was the first wife of Adam, who abandoned her partner after he denied her equality, and as a demon vowed vengeance on her successor Eve by murdering children and pregnant women. Collier represents Lilith addressing her lover, the serpent, whose form she wished to assume in order to re-enter Eden and wreak destruction. For Rossetti and his circle Lilith was the archetypal femme fatale as well as the first independent-minded woman, qualities which gave her contemporary relevance as the original advocate of women's rights. In 1883 Frederick Leyland, the owner of Rossetti's painting "Lady Lilith", lent the picture to the first public exhibition of the artist's work at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, and the subject became immediately pertinent for a generation for whom the term "New Woman" had become a political reality. Disregarding the painterly treatment and complex symbolism used by Rossetti, Collier's painting Lilith appears modern, real and alluring.