The Mother the Witch the Hysteric
Elisabet Ney Museum
the Mother the Witch the Hysteric
Elisabet Ney Museum
By the door of the reception room lives a piece by Elisabet Ney. It shows the torso of a woman, smaller than life size, missing a head and arms, taking a step or maybe posing. It is not a study of Venus de Milo, it’s the beginning of Ney’s Lady Macbeth, the artist's last major work and a piece not made for any particular buyer. Into the sculpture and Shakespearean character Ney rendered her likeness, and Lady Macbeth helped summarize Ney’s personal disappointments and professional accomplishments. Her ambitions and her failures displayed through the final Lady Macbeth were ultimately collected by the Smithsonian, with the plaster version remaining in the Museum.
For many years, an ambitious woman who does not conform to strict patriarchal standards was considered a witch (how else could she be so powerful, she must have made a deal with devils), and we see her persecution until pseudo-science determined it must be the fault of the wandering womb, or The Mother. A double-edged sword was devised in which women could not be too reserved or too independent, for unless they stuck to a very strict standard of behavior, the womb (the Mother) would wander and cause Hysteria.
Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is often easily and flatly viewed as an evil woman who embraces witchcraft to aid her ambitions. Anna Brownell Jameson’s 1833 book Characteristics of Women: Moral, Poetical, and Historical, gives us a multi-dimensional and detailed view of the Lady. Jameson discusses her superior intelligence, her attentiveness to emotion and detail as well as her values as a fully-fledged character. For the show, illustrations for the book, prints made by Kenny Meadows, were pulled and combined with images of Ney’s sculpture of Lady Macbeth. The artist, Annie May Johnston, is also pieced into the mix, through photographic manipulation and in her hand-drawn and painted lithographic prints. The final pieces are on sheer but strong fabric, hung from the original molding with rope.