The Judgement of Paris

Douglas MacDiarmid (New Zealander, b.1922, d.2020), Artist 1959 © All rights reserved See full details

Object Detail

This figurative painting has nothing to do with Douglas’ adopted home Paris. It is inspired by his life-long love of Greek mythology and the classics, a tableau often depicted on ancient Greek mosaics and vases, in paintings and literature.

The subject is Paris of Troy deciding which of three fabled Greek goddesses – Hera, Athena or Aphrodite – was the most beautiful. The contest started when the Goddess of Discord Eris was not invited to an important wedding. She responded by throwing a golden apple addressed “To the Fairest” to the goddesses attending. To stop them squabbling, the gods nominated Paris to decide the contest.

To win favour, Hera (jealous sister-wife of Zeus, Queen of the Gods, Goddess of Women, Marriage, Family and Childbirth) offered to make him king of all men; Athena (Goddess of Wisdom, Handicraft and War) promised him victory in war; but he chose Aphrodite (Goddess of Love, Beauty, Pleasure, Passion and Procreation) because she promised him the loveliest woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. She was already happily married, so was abducted, which led directly to the long Trojan War and the fall of the great city of Troy.

Douglas has regularly used mythological or allegorical elements in his painting, but only a small handful portray the enactment of a legend. In the late 1950s, both Douglas and his then French fiancée Jacqueline had periods of serious illness in Paris; unable to travel to nourish his work, he painted items close at hand or found inspiration in his imagination.

Paris the French city, incidentally, was not named after the Greek anti-hero but for the Parisii, a Gallic tribe established on the site.

It is interesting that this painting was gifted by Douglas' first great love and lifelong friend, composer Douglas Lilburn from his personal collection. Lilburn acted as unofficial New Zealand agent for Douglas, selling paintings privately to help keep him afloat in his early years in France, and especially in the desperate years after Jacqueline’s tragic death when he found himself having to start again from scratch.

Anna Cahill, March 2020
The Judgement of Paris
Production date
oil on canvas
Image: 730 x 920 mm
Frame: 750 x 944 x 45 mm
Credit line
Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, gifted by Douglas Lilburn 1987
Accession number