Friday, 4 March 2011

Na-na-na-na Na-na-na-na ... Naiads!

Hylas and the Nymphs: John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

[click to enlarge pictures]

Rounding off our saucy survey of Victorian and Edwardian bathing beauties, we come at last to the genuine Naiads: classical spirits of freshwater wells, springs, brooks and pools. The most famous depiction has to be Hylas and the Nymphs above, which I was lucky enough to see for real at a Waterhouse retrospective in 2009.

Hylas was a famously beautiful youth picked by Hercules as his armour-bearer and lover. They joined the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece, but Hylas vanished when they stopped off for fresh water - he had been siezed by the nymph of the stream and pulled in. Hercules, distraught, quit the quest in order to search in vain for his friend.

Here's another painting of the same theme:

 Hylas and the Nymphs: Henrietta Rae (1859-1928)

Once again, nymphs are used to warn of the danger of water - however seductive and beautiful the ocean or river, it may kill you.

A Naiad: John William Waterhouse

No, you're not imagining things: all Waterhouse's nymphs do have the same face. He seems to have had very clear ideas about the facial archetype he wanted throughout his career, and you can read more about his models here.

The Naiad's Pool: Herbert James Draper (1863-1920)

Actually I think this one may really be a Nereid, but I'm giving the artist the benefit of the doubt.

 The Water Nymph: Herbert James Draper

Now this one's definitely a freshwater nymph. She's also, sadly, a bit cheesecakey. For which Klimt is the antidote:

 Water Nymphs: Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Klimt may have shared dates with traditional Victorian artists, but he ploughed his own unique symbolist furrow and no one can accuse his depictions of  women of being bland! Naiads as disembodied heads floating in the murky depths ... eek! Wonderful!

The Water Nymph: John Collier (1850-1934)

Collier's picture isn't bland either. I love the dark and distinctly unappealing water, and her reflection in it. Also her expression, which makes me think she's not musing upon raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens - unless she's planning to drown the latter.

The Rhinemaidens:  Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

Rackham is mostly known now as an illustrator of children's books, but he also did a series of pen-and-ink drawings about the Ring Cycle of teutonic myth. I have a postcard copy of the picture above, which I've cherished for years.

Here are some more of Rackham's Rhinemaidens:

The Rhine's fair Children, bewailing their lost gold, weep

Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens

The next picture is barely more than an excuse for painting some awesome boobies:

The Water Nymph: Otto Lingner (1856-1917)

But it's so attractive I think I'll  overlook the lack of context.

 The Nymphaeum: William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

But this one has more cheesecake than a whole branch of the Cheesecake Factory. Like Draper, Bouguereau's output varied wildly, from the dramatic to the saccharine. Personally I don't like the Nymphaeum picture above. But I think this one is great:

Nymphs and Satyr: William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Look at those skin-tones! And I think that satyr is in serious trouble, despite their playful faces, given how his hooves are slipping on the muddy bank...


Jo said...

I love lots of these. And I finally went and looked up Cheesecake.

So what exactly was the pond woman in Wildwood?

Chris said...

Another splendid tour of artworks I would never get the opportunity to look once at, let alone twice.

With you as a guide, I might even visit an art gallery.

Danielle said...

ahh..i love these..:-) especially the last one..the glwoing of the skin..lovely..but..poor hercules...loosing his "Hus-bear"

Jeremy Edwards said...

I have an old story called "Water Nymph" (or maybe "Water-Nymph"). You can probably guess what it's about. ; )

Janine Ashbless said...

The pond woman in Wildwood was this one, Jo.

Descended from Naiads, but definitely on the dark side of the family...

Janine Ashbless said...

Is your story available online, Jeremy?

Jeremy Edwards said...

I don't believe it is (but thanks for the thought!). It was a magazine piece—you know, um, the Waterhouse Society Quarterly or something.

Jo said...

Oh, she's real! And there's an Irish version too, cool.

Veronic said...

Really amazing art and interesting!
As a gamer girl I specially appreciate this kind of mythology!
ThanX Janine! :)

Janine Ashbless said...

Heh heh heh. Velcome to the Dark Side, Veronic! You are vun of us now...

Craig Sorensen said...

Those are some amazing paintings. There is a depth to the two by Bouguereau that makes them especially stunning.

Excellent stuff!

Veronic said...

my answer to that "dark side" comment: "you've failed your highness. I am a blonde bimbo like my mother before me." and I think about it some more: "Hey, maybe I can be BOTH! I'm IN!"
And I lived happily ever after (but with fresh spanking marks on my bum every day ...)
Wait? what kind of gaming WERE we talking about? Mistress Lucy used her Jedi Mind Trick on me. Apparently it works on all weak-minded blondes ;)