John William Waterhouse: Hylas and the Nymphs

The English painter John William Waterhouse (1849 – 1917) was perhaps the only artist to have successfully reconciled the opposing forces of Classicism and Pre-Raphaelitism in late Victorian art. He followed the conventional path to success, becoming an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1885 and a full Academician in 1895. But he did not seem to care much for artistic factions, preferring to devote himself only to his work. Borrowing stylistic influences not only from the Pre-Raphaelites but also from his contemporaries, the Impressionists his artworks earned him admiration from all sides, and during the 1880s and ’90s his reputation rivalled even that of Leighton and Burne-Jones.

John William Waterhouse ~ Diogenes ~ 1882

Waterhouse’s early work is much different in subtext than his later work. His early paintings are historically accurate representations of ordinary life in the ancient world. His painting Diogenes is a good example. The figures in the paintings are not Venus or the Nymphs but ordinary woman. This is characteristic of a materialistic conscience that has little faith in transcendence. At this point Waterhouse’s work was like Leighton’s, paintings of superficial women with fancy fans and umbrellas appealed to the bourgeois taste. In the latter part of the 1880s Waterhouse was “converted” to Pre-Raphaelitism.

John William Waterhouse ~ Hylas and the Nymphs ~ 1896

Of all the works featured on this site, the first piece which I came to know was Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs. When I was 14, I found a reproduction of the painting in a book on fairies which I bought from a church rummage sale. In the original myth, Hylas was lured to his death by the Nymphs, but I did not read the painting that way, rather the Nymphs seem to have emerged from the depths of spiritual water. The enchanting Nymphs of the painting were from a richer time, apart from the trivialities of this world. Fortunately, I was influenced by the painting before I had contact with erotica. Rather than perceiving the image as a vehicle for an erotic fantasy, my experience of the painting gave me the inconsolable longing C.S. Lewis called Joy or what J.R.R. Tolkien called Recovery. The painting seems to have inspired the bathing Centaurette scene from Walt Disney’s classic Fantasia.

Walt Disney Studios ~ Fantasia ~ 1940

John William Waterhouse ~ Hylas and the Nymphs ~ 1896 (detail)

I recently had the reflection that praising is the very antithesis of cursing. In the past,  the admiration of the beauty of women and girls was more openly expressed. Since contemporary mass culture only regards nudity in the context of vulgarity, the experience of human beauty is tarnished and its praise is prohibited. From my experience, artists are not encouraged to paint Nymphs as Waterhouse. Since expressions of sublime joy are not nurtured, transgression has become the norm. It’s acceptable to the Neo-bourgeois to praise the beauty of stars and clouds of the sky. It’s ok to reflect the beauty of the mountains and the trees. But unlike the old bourgeois of the 19th century, they impoverished in the appreciation of the greatest subject in creation, the human form.

John William Waterhouse ~ Hamadryad ~ 1893

John William Waterhouse ~ Listen to My Sweet Pipings ~ 1911

John William Waterhouse ~ Joan of Arc

Sir Edward John Poynter: Idle Fears

Sir Edward John Poynter (1836– 1919) was an English artist who is best known for his refined scenes of antiquity. Poynter’s work is characteristic of Victorian art which appealed to the bourgeois taste for the exotic. Poynter studied painting in Paris at Charles Gleyre’s studio, where many of the young artists who were to become major Impressionists had their early training. But he was not himself drawn into the vortex of the new movements in art in France. In Britain, the Impressionists were regarded as amateurs who hardly knew how to draw. Poynter devoted himself to refined drawing and classical themes, and thus found favor with the British art-buying public. He became an R A in 1876 and was knighted in 1896.

Edward John Poynter ~ Idle Fears ~ 1894

Edward John Poynter ~ On the Temple Steps

Edward John Poynter ~ Asclepius attending to a thorn in the foot of Venus ~ 1880

Edward John Poynter ~ At Low Tide ~ 1912-14

Edward John Poynter ~ Wonders of the Deep

Edward John Poynter ~ Outward Bound ~ 1886

Burne-Jones: The Mirror of Venus

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (August 1833 – 1898) was an English artist closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. But I think it would be more accurate to call him a Raphaelite. Burne-Jones shared the Pre-Raphaelite’s distaste for materialism and the ugliness of the industrialized world and was driven by the same spirituality and idealism, but his soft style with its sfumato lighting evokes the mood of later Italian masters.

Many of Burne-Jones’ later works have no recognizable narrative which in this sense they can be called Symbolist. His archetypal figures find a counterpart in the work of the French artist Puvis de Chavannes. As president of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Puvis sought to obtain Burne-Jones’s Wheel of Fortune for their annual exhibition. “Most eminent master,” Puvis wrote, “The promise of your glorious participation in our exhibition at the Champ-de-Mars is a source of great and sincere personal joy… As for drawings, we would consider them also as an expression of the deepest, purest and highest art.”

Edward Burne-Jones ~The Mirror of Venus

Edward Burne-Jones ~The Mirror of Venus ~ 1898

Burne-Jones’s The Mirror of Venus is one of the artist’s best known works. The painting does not represent any particular myth of Venus, rather the painting is like an ambiguous poem. Burne-Jones painted two versions of The Mirror of Venus, in the better known version, Venus wears a blue gown. But the version which left a greater impression on me, shows Venus with a halo and she wears a transparent gown. The nearly nude figure is more spiritual than in the other version. These characteristics set her apart from the other women in the painting who gaze at her reflection. The painting gives me the impression of Christ and his disciples.

A passage from C.S.Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress I believe has insight in interpreting The Mirror of Venus. The Pilgrim’s Regress is an allegorical book of a young man’s conversion to Christianity. The book is in a sense an autobiography of Lewis’ conversion. As a boy, John has a vision of an enchanted island. He is told later that it is the home of the landlord. John sets out on a quest to find the island and travels through lands which are symbolic of different philosophical positions. John is captured and thrown in a dungeon by the giant that represents the Spirit of the Age. When John recognizes the deception of the jailer the allegorical figure of reason appears, “a woman in the flower of her age: she was so tall that she seemed to him a Titaness, a sun-bright virgin clad in complete steel, with a sword naked in her hand.” Reason wagers that the giant answer three riddles for the price of his head. The giant muttered and mumbled when he couldn’t answer the first two riddles. Reason defeats the giant with the third riddle which sounds like an art theory question “By what rule do you tell a copy from an original?”

Reason frees John from the giant’s dungeon and travels with him for a while, John asks her about the third riddle, she answers him “You are not of an age to have thought much,” said Reason.”But you must see that if two things are alike, then it is a further question whether the first is copied from the second, or the second from the first, or both from a third?” ” What would the third be?” asked John, “Some have thought that all these loves were copies of our love for the landlord.”

C.S. Lewis was making a case that beauty and love one perceives in women is a reflection of the “landlord” which is of course God. I think it reasonable to say his way of thinking was common until the 20th century. Rather than thinking that all desire was rooted in an interest in the body, the desire for beauty reflected a good ethic nature. Unfortunately, contemporary culture has completely lost sight of this. Today, every boy is captured in the dungeon of the Spirit of the Age.

Edward Burne-Jones ~ The Perseus Series; The Doom Fulfilled ~ 1885

Edward Burne-Jones ~ The Garden of Pan ~ 1886

Edward Burne-Jones ~ Days of Creation

Edward Burne-Jones ~ Psyches Wedding ~ 1895

Millet: Spring (Daphnis and Chloë)

Jean-François Millet ~ Gleaners ~ 1857

The French artist Jean-François Millet (1814 – 1875) along with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot ( 1796 – 1875) were founders of the Barbizon movement. Instead of working only in the studio, they established a tradition of painting (plein air) outdoors. Millet is best known for sympathetic paintings of rustic peasant farmers. The public was often unenthusiastic, even hostile, to Millet’s paintings exhibited at the French Salon since the artist’s political sympathies were suspect. I find this difficult to understand because Bouguereau often painted peasants as well. Millet’s work was a great influence on Vincent van Gogh and later in the 20th century, Salvador Dali had a pathological obsession with his painting The Angelus.

Jean-François Millet ~ Spring (Daphnis and Chloë) 1865

Since Millet is known for painting peasants, it was a pleasant surprise to discover his romantic painting Spring (Daphnis and Chloë). The subject of Daphnis holding a nest of baby birds as Chloë tries to feed them reflects a great originality as well as tenderness. Apparently, Millet must have been familiar with ancient literature for him to paint this rather obscure subject. Occasionally, 19th century artists painted Daphnis and Chloë but I have not seen other works depicting this charming scene. The tale of Daphnis and Chloë is attributed to the ancient Greek poet Longus. The tale concerns two abandoned children who are raised by herdsmen and grow up to fulfill their mutual love.

Jean-François Millet ~ Spring (Daphnis and Chloë) detail

I’m rather impressed with Millet’s rendering of the figures, since his peer Corot never fair well with them. The contrasted warm and cool flesh tones of the girl make her stunning. The hatching strokes show a deep understanding of how to model a figure. It’s a great shame that Millet didn’t paint more Romantic figures.

Jean-François Millet ~ Goose Girl

Millet’s Goose Girl is the only other nude figure I know of by the artist. This painting seems to be better known but I don’t think it’s as impressive as Daphnis and Chloë. The bathing girl resembles Chloe, perhaps Millet painted the same model for both paintings.

James Sant

James Sant (1820-1916) was an English painter who is rather unknown today. I believe Sant is this neglected because he continued to painting in the style of Joshua Reynolds at the time the Pre-Raphaelites were popular. It’s a shame since Sant was an excellent painter, I thought it would be worth while to post his work for a comparison to the Pre-Raphaelites. It is worth noting, Sant was an acquaintance of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Sant’s daughter Sarah Fanny and son Jemmy were the subjects of photographic studies by Dodgson.

James Sant ~ The Infant Sameul ~ 1853

Sant painted the Infant Samuel in 1853, at the time the Pre-Raphaelites were most active. In contrast to the work of the Brotherhood, the strong chiaroscuro and dark background reflects the influence of the Baroque masters. There was a genre of painting Biblical figures as children in the 18th century. The painting recalls Reynold’s the Infant John the Baptist. Samuel was Sant’s first popular painting, it was such a success, engravings of it sold in great numbers.

James Sant ~ Courage Anxiety and Despair

I think Courage, Anxiety and Despair is Sant’s most impressive painting. The Pre-Raphaelites may have idealized women but they didn’t really paint allegories of this kind. This type of painting was more common in the Baroque, the dynamic composition reminds me of Caravaggio.

James Sant ~ Ophelia ~ 1864

I found Sant’s work when I did a google search for Ophelia and found this painting. Sant’s Ophelia is really in the style of Reynolds, it could have been painted in the 18th century.

James Sant ~ Astronomy

James Sant ~ The Athenaeum Contemplation

Arthur Hughes: Ophelia

Arthur Hughes ~ Ophelia ~ 1852

Arthur Hughes (1832 – 1915) was an English painter who was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Hughes is best known for his painting Ophelia which was painted in the same year that Everett Millais painted his Ophelia. Although Hughes had known Hunt and Rossetti of the Brotherhood for some time, it’s interesting that Hughes did not meet Millais until they both had paintings entitled Ophelia in the Royal Academy exhibition. Hughes met him in front of the picture and later recalled that Millais ‘had just been up a ladder looking at my picture, and that it gave him more pleasure than any picture there, but adding very truly that I had not painted the right kind of stream.’

Hughes ~ Ophelia ~ 1852 (detail)

Ophelia is an unusually powerful and haunting picture. This detail shows how refined Hughes technique was, he painted the individual strands of the maiden’s hair. The mood of the landscape, its misty greens and dusty reds, reflect the of the sadness of Ophelia.

Arthur Hughes ~ The Nativity ~ 1858

Hughes’ The Nativity is a good example of a work which reflects the influence of the early Renaissance. The geometric forms of the composition recall the work of the early Italian masters.

Arthur Hughes – The Long Engagement

In 1855 Hughes married Tryphena Foord who was the model this painting and many others.The title of this painting was inspired by the fact that Hughes had to wait five years before he could marry Miss Foord.

Arthur Hughes~ Back From the Sea ~ 1862.

Arthur Hughes ~ The Woodman’s Child ~ 1860

Arthur Hughes ~ In the Grass ~ 1865

Arthur Hughes ~ Good Night

Arthur Hughes ~ The White Hind ~ 1870

Sorrow of Venus

Susan plans to do an extensive post on my work in the future but I thought it was time to post some of my paintings for visitors who do not know of my work. The romantic and symbolist art featured on this site was a great inspiration for my work. My interest in the spiritual aspect of art sent me in a very different direction than my peers.

A few days ago, I happened to see my friend Peter who is an artist shopping in the supermarket. He told me he had been in a plein air painting competition. He said he had to produce seven paintings in three days. It struck me as absurd, it usually takes me three days just to find a location that inspires me. I could tell he was exhausted. It was as if Peter was in a golf tournament! Such a competitive and material approach to art is bound to blind one to the essence of art, an insight of the soul. Symbolism of the 19th Century was a response to the trends in materialism. So the purpose of this site is not just to archive interesting work of the past but to inspire artists in the present.

Scott Affleck ~ Sorrow of Venus ~ 2002-17

I began Sorrow of Venus about 15 years ago. Originally, there was a young lad playing a flute and the background was a misty forest, so the figure of Venus is all that remains of the original composition. The group of children playing London Bridge was based on an old photograph from a German naturalist publication of the 1920’s. Such a pacifist image of nude children I find so compelling because it stands in contrast to the horrific images of victims of the Holocaust. When these children grew up they were living in Nazi German. If the reverence for life I see reflected in the innocence of the children was a fundamental principle in Germany, the Holocaust would have never happened. In the past, images of the Golden Age served as an ideal of what ought to be. The Sorrow of Venus reflects the grief from the terrible loss of these principles in contemporary culture.

Scott Affleck ~ Natural Cathedral ~ 2002

Natural Cathedral is an other painting from around 15 years ago. The painting is not as realistic as my more recent work. At the time I was influenced by the muted pallet of  the Symbolists, which gives the painting the effect of a dream. The title of the painting reflects the concept of the sacred groves. Francis Schaeffer recognized that for centuries God had been envisioned as “absolutely transcendent, apart from the world, isolated from nature and organic life.” The consequence of perceiving nature as only matter lead to the easy exploitation of nature. I came to realize my landscapes are a reaction against this perception of nature.


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Our generation has happily thrown away the accumulated wisdom of the race.”  Norman O. Brown

In 1848 there were political revolutions across Europe. A revolution was avoided in England, but in that year three young artists started a revolution in art that had a profound effect through the rest of the century.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites). They called themselves Pre-Raphaelites because it reflected their admiration of the early Italian painters before Raphael. Their motivation came from their absolute rejection of the conventional artistic pretensions of the Royal Academy of Arts, and in particular the mechanistic imitators of Raphael and Michelangelo; especially in the uninspired techniques of the Mannerists adopted by the founder of the Royal Academy: Sir Joshua Reynolds, in whom they saw the epitome of lax composition with little detail and colors, gross and darkened with the use of the despised bitumen. They decided they would approach nature without artifice as the early Renaissance artists for the rejuvenation of spiritual art. The most common subject of the movement were idealized young ladies which reflected the values that were compromised by materialism and bourgeois moral decadence.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti ~ The Girlhood of Mary Virgin ~ 1848-9

The first painting to be exhibited by the Brotherhood was Rossetti’s The Girlhood of Mary Virgin. The painting is full of symbolic content. The haloed dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The child-angel stands beside a pile of books inscribed with the cardinal virtues, she tends to a lily which is a symbol of purity. But contemporary authors grounded in psychological determinism tend to see paintings of this kind as a manifestation of “perversion”. To quote Norman O. Brown,”They have risen to the occasion and have shown that they can be counted on to issue a medical certificate of insanity against genius”.

John Everett Millais ~ The Bridesmaid ~ 1851

Years ago, I came across Bram Dijkstra’s book, Idols of Perversity. The book was filled with illustrations of painting by artists of the Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolists schools, which Dijkstra castigated to prove his premise. At the time, I had never seen most of the works in the book and I became fascinated by the art of the period, despite the intention of the author. Dijkstra claims that artists of the 19th century had an oppressive view of women, that women were expected to play roles that denied their liberty. But Dijkstra’s view reflects a modern sensibility indifferent to the effects of alienation caused by industrialization. I found more sanity in the passages Dijkstra quotes than I did in his one-dimentional perspective. For example, he quotes Sarah Stickney Ellis’ book The Women of England, published in 1839 which became popular in both England and the United States. The passage describes the effects of the dog eat dog marketplace. Ellis wrote:

“There is no union in the great field of action in which he is engaged, but envy, and hatred, and opposition, to the close of the day — every man’s hand against his brother, and each struggling to exalt himself, not merely by trampling upon his fallen foe, but by usurping the place of his weaker brother.”

Ellis emphasized that women needed to counteract the destructive influences on the male’s soul, to preserve the moral values of society. How is this a perversion?

John Everett Millais ~ The Return of the Dove to the Ark ~ 1851

Christopher Lasch observed that contemporary authors grounded in reductionist psychology, “end up by reading out of the historical record everything that fails to conform to modern standards of enlightenment.” Many of the Pre-Raphaelite’s images of women represented virtues, the images were a kind of refuge, a visual antidote to reject the values of Weber’s Iron Cage of bureaucracy. Indeed, women were seen as free if they could remain outside of the artificial man-made bureaucracy, and reject by their very beauty and innocence, its socially driven and pathologically empty ideals of mindless consumption; filled only with avaricious competition with ones fellow-man over ones daily bread.

William Holman Hunt ~ A Cconverted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids ~ 1850

John Everett Millais ~ Red Riding Hood (date unknown)

Eduard Steinbrück: Forest Seclusion

Eduard Steinbrück(1802-1882) was a Romantic German artist known for his paintings inspired by legends and literature. Some biographical information can be found on Steinbrück online but I could find nothing which discussed the content of his work. So I believe this is the first article to discuss Steinbrück’s work in a cultural context.

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Die-Nymphe der Düssel ~ 1837

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Die-Nymphe der Düssel ~ 1837

Steinbrück’s The Nymph of the Düssel is comparable to Ingres’ The Source , both figures holds vases of running water. The figure in Ingres’ painting represents a spring which in Greek classical literature, is sacred to the Muses and a source of poetic inspiration. The interpretation of Ingres’ painting seems appropriate for Steinbrück’s painting as well. I think Steinbrück’s picture is much more beautiful than The Source. The nymph’s figure is more natural and appealing. The rendering of her hair and the running water are unsurpassed.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres ~ The Source ~ 1856

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres ~ The Source ~ 1856

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Children Bathing

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Children Bathing

Steinbrück painted a few charming pictures of children bathing. Many Romantics considered childhood an ideal state which is lost by disenchantment due to the demands of the modern world. The influential philosopher Friedrich Schiller wrote:

“Our childhood is all that remains of nature in humanity, such as civilization has made it, of untouched, unmutilated nature. It is, therefore, not wonderful, when we meet out of us the impress of nature, that we are always brought back to the idea of our childhood”.

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Bathers

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Little Red Riding Hood

Steinbrück turned to fairy tales, as did many of his German contemporaries, to revive the enchantment of childhood. It was not a coincidence that when the Brothers Grimm were collecting their fairy tales, painting also turned to this genre. The term “Waldeinsamkeit” (forest seclusion) comes from Ludwig Tieck’s fairy tale Blond Eckbert. The term express the need for spiritual refuge. In fairy tales the mysterious forest is rich in symbols, a source of wonder and as well as fear.

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Marie among the Elves ~ 1840

Marie with the Elves depicts a scene from Ludwig Tieck’s fairy tale The Elves. Marie was running a race with her friend Andres but ran in a different direction than him and came upon the enchanted garden of the elves. In Steinbrück’s painting, Marie is delighted by the whimsical activities of the bathing elves.

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Marie among the Elves ~ 1840 (detail)

As Max Weber noted, the industrial revolution had the effect of disenchantment, in previous cultures spirits were thought to live in the trees, but the rationalism of the Enlightenment dismissed such views. In the absence of such spirituality, nature was exploited for profit. At the end of Tieck’s story, Marie returns to her family and the elves leave the forest which had a devastating effect:

“The same year there came a blight; the woods died away, the springs ran dry; and the scene, which had once been the joy of every traveller, was in autumn standing waste, naked and bald; scarcely showing here and there, in the sea of sand, a spot or two where grass, with a dingy greenness, still grew up. The fruit-trees all withered, the vines faded away”.

It seems the Elves leaving the forest is symbolic of modern man’s disenchantment. All of nature withered because it was perceived to be without spirit. Romanism was a reaction to such a view. In more recent times there has been a renewed respect for nature by environmentalists as chronicled in James William Gibson’s book A Reenchanted World. But I wonder if there is a true reenchantment trend? The belief in the spiritual realm was expressed though enchanting human figures, but magical paintings like Steinbrück’s hardly a trend in contemporary art. Not only is nature perceived to be without spirit in the modern view but so is humanity. The dismissal of the human soul devalues everything, there must be a reenchantment in human realm. We should return to the secluded forest to be inspired by the spring of the muses.


Jules Joseph Lefebvre: The French Pre-Raphaelite

Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911) was French Romantic artist and educator. He won prestigious awards and was a member of the French Academie des Beaux-Arts. His nudes were so famous in his time that his only rival was considered to be Bouguereau. But like most of the contemporaries of Bouguereau, he is hardly remembered today. Lefebvre was sympathetic teacher who taught more than 1500 pupils. Among his famous students were Fernand Khnopff, Kenyon Cox, and Felix Vallotton.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Pandora ~ 1872

In Greek mythology Pandora, the ‘all-gifted’, was the first woman on Earth. She was fashioned from clay by Vulcan and was endowed with various gifts from the gods. She was sent to Earth by Jupiter and was presented to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. When she opened her box, all the evils which have since beset mankind flew out. Pandora quickly closed the box but all that remained inside was Hope. The Golden Age came to an end. This was Jupiter’s punishment to the human race for the theft of fire by Prometheus.

Lefebvre’s Pandora walks from the fiery forge of Vulcan, presenting the fateful box to humanity.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Ophelia ~ 1890

It seems that Lefebvre was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in his choices in subjects and models. Ophelia was a character from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, she was a popular subject among the English painters. Lefebvre’s Ophelia walks into a pool of water lilies to drown herself. She appears to be lost in thought.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Vittoria Colonna ~ 1861

Lefebvre’s technical skill is most evident in his striking portrait Vittoria Colonna. The context of the painting is puzzling, since Colonna was an Italian 16th century noblewoman and poet.

Maidens with long red hair were common subject of the Pre-Raphaelites, so if didn’t know better I would assume this was the work of an English artist. Lefebvre did a number of paintings of girls who resemble the model for Vittoria Colonna, it is uncertain if the same model inspired the other paintings.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Lauretta

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ L’amour blesse (Love Hurts)

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Mignon (Cute)