Graham Sutherland, O.M. 1903-1980
The Snake 1978 -79
From Apollinaire. Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée 1978-9
Etching and aquatint 491 x 362 (19 3/4 x 14 1/4) on paper 715 x 543 (28 1/8 x 21 3/8)
The Tate, London
One cannot improve on the catalogue entry on The Tate website for this particular work
Here are the salient points:
"Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée' was the last set of prints which Sutherland made before his death in February 1980 ...
Sutherland's interest in Bestiaries dates from the preparatory research he did for the tapestry he designed for Coventry Cathedral (1952-62) in which the Evangelists are represented as beasts.
Deriving originally from the Greek Physiologus, the Medieval Latin Bestiary originated in England in the mid-twelfth century. Essentially it comprised a collection of stories, each of which was based on a description of an animal, plant or stone in order to present a Christian allegory for moral and religious instruction and admonition.
Usually there were around a hundred stories which normally, though not necessarily, were accompanied by illustrations.
Both as an artist, in whose work symbolism and allegory occupy a central place, and as a Catholic, Sutherland was thus attracted to the Bestiary as a means of expressing what Marzio Pinottini describes as ‘multiple significance [:] the necessary counterpart of the ‘One beyond Being.' (Pinottini and Zoppi 1985, pp.18-19).
Pinottini regards Sutherland's art in general as ‘[manifesting] a vision of the metamorphic and metamorphosing ambiguity of nature, bristling with thorns and prickles as it so often is, as an emblem of daily life and of our state of natura lapsa after the fate brought about by original sin' (ibid., p.18).
He interprets the Bestiaries, in particular, as representing ‘the fabric of the transient human frailty to which the metamorphic aggressiveness of the animal and vegetable world of his invention alludes' (ibid., p.20). ...
Image printed in four colours: yellow, green, red and black; replete with sexual overtones, Sutherland's snake writhes against an expanse of sky, menacing its three most famous victims: Eve, Eurydice and Cleopatra who cower, imprisoned, below.
A fourth figure, whose head can be seen above the box-prison, relates to Apollinaire's line: ‘J'en connais encore trois ou quatre' [‘I know three or four more' i.e. victims].
In the centre of the image a snake entwined in a tree alludes to the role of the snake in the Fall of Man brought about by Original Sin."