Tuesday, June 24, 2008

John William Waterhouse takes on Ulysses and the Sirens

Yesterday I noted that The Times was quite critical of Herbert James Draper's 1909interpretation of Homer's Sirens. Perhaps that is because 18 years before his painting was exhibited, John William Waterhouse had shown his own pictorial representation of Ulysses and the Sirens.

Unlike Draper, who leaned rather heavily on artistic license, Waterhouse was extremely careful to include specific details from the story that only would have been apparent to someone with more intimate knowledge of history. For example, as Australia's National Gallery has pointed out, the faces of Homer and his men, their clothing and helmets, and the boat's design have all been inspired by genuine artifacts.

Furthermore, you'll recall that critics were outraged that Draper portrayed the Sirens as mermaids. But when Waterhouse's rendition of the scene was exhibited 18 years before, critics noted that Waterhouse was one of the first artists to portray the Sirens as bird-like figures, something he might have noticed on a trip to the British Museum, which houses an ancient Greek red figure vase depicting the Sirens as birds.

I appreciate Waterhouse's version because it transports the viewer into the story of Ulysses and has a very clear narrative quality. Draper's portrayal seems to be telling a different tale altogether, but it's so lovely that I can hardly fault it. Both are lovely.


Sarah said...

That is really interesting about the sirens being portrayed as birds. I always sort of assumed they were more mermaid-like.

How on earth do you have time to blog about all this while you're in vacation? You are one busy person!!!

Margaret said...

I'm fascinated by the differences in how people portray mythical creatures. Think of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and how he interprets creatures from mythology vs. Tolkein.

adriana said...

it´s so beautiful !! we love waterhouse !!!


hadas de avalon



M.Kate said...

Very beautiful...tks for sharing and happy weekend :)