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Janet Leith: Melancholia


Janet Leith: Melancholia

3 May 2024 – 23 Jun 2024

Janet Leith’s exhibition Melancholia draws inspiration from Laurinda S. Dixon’s Privileged Piety: Melancholia and the Herbal Tradition published in the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art.

Leith explains, “At the time I was contemplating the direction of my art following the recent loss of my dear dad and the emotional turmoil that ensued.”

“The content of this article has formed the base for my current and continuing body of drawings and paintings of the female form and sculptural pieces of symbolic subject matter related to melancholia.”

Leith examines the pre-nineteenth century system of belief relating to humoral theory, specifically the ‘Four Humors’ of phlegm, black bile, yellow bile and blood, which instigated the effects of both heightened inspiration (heat) and depressed spirits (cold) on the human body and mind.

“Today the word melancholia connotes sorrow or depression, psychiatric conditions. But before the nineteenth century, the condition was perceived as involving both body and mind. Authorities blamed melancholia for any number of health conditions and other matters, including depression, cholera, syphilis, witchcraft and even murder. Criminals and sociopaths commonly succumbed, due to the influence of the dark planet Saturn. However the dark planet could also stimulate deep thought and spark creative fires, bringing lovers, scholars and saints into it’s realm.”

Leith’s work is a symbolic representation of the artist’s personal state of mind, a sense of disquiet and a variety of emotions through the use of the female nude. The figures are depicted as vulnerable and stark against inky black backgrounds; the large, cropped bodies, torsos and busts are de-identified through fabric wrapping of the face. The series culminates in the artist’s own image, conceived as “a final sense of acceptance and acknowledgement of the universality of this experience and my understanding of the emotion and physical effects on my body.”

Leith’s intent is to create a thoughtful and emotional environment allowing visitors to dwell, consider, and perhaps personally identify with the various concepts of ‘melancholia’ that are presented.

Image: Janet LEITH Melancholia-Thistle-Yellow Bile-5 2024 acrylic, charcoal, ink and gesso on canvas 50 x 50 cm

Gallery Details

Benalla Art Gallery
Botanical Gardens
Bridge Street
Benalla VIC 3672
T: (03) 5760 2619
W: benallaartgallery.com.au/

Opening Hours
Open 10am - 5pm
Closed Tuesdays

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Gallery Info

The Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV) acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the lands where our office is located, and all Traditional Owners of country throughout Victoria and Australia. We recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enduring traditions and continuing creative cultures. We pay our respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

We are an LGBTQIA+ friendly organisation and celebrate cultural diversity.