Thesmophoria, the newest painting on display at the BYU Museum of Art, was created by artist Francis Davis Millet, a famous mural painter who was aboard the Titanic when it sunk in the Atlantic Ocean 100 years ago this month.
Millet’s painting of Thesmophoria was not fashioned to be the final work of art, but was created as a smaller draft of a larger mural actually painted inside the Bank of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was demolished in 1944.
Thesmorphia, an oil-on-canvas painting created between 1894 and 1897, illustrates an enactment of the ancient Athenian festival honoring Demeter, the Greek Goddess that personifies agriculture and the civic rite of marriage. Ancient customs show that women offered sacrifices for three days each year in Demeter’s temple on the promontory of Colias before returning home to Athens. A lady of nobility was chosen to act as priestess each year, which is depicted in the painting as the lady with the thimble staff.
Millet was known to use actresses for models in his work. American actress Mary Anderson (Madame M. Antoinette Anderson de Navarro) was one of several models for the priestesses in the painting.
Millet’s granddaughter, Joyce A. Sharpey-Schafer, recollected the works created for public buildings such as state capitals. Of the many works created she remembered one in particular and expressed, “One of these I remember vividly, a reproduction of it hung at the top of the stairs in our childhood home. On the way to bed I would stop and stare at his Thesmophoria.”
The painting is featured at the BYU Museum of Art with its original tabernacle-styled frame, preserving the true character of the American Renaissance.
Thesmophoria was put on display at the museum on April 19, 2012 in memorial of Millet and all who were lost with the Titanic.