Monday, June 23, 2008

Herbert James Draper Ulysses and the Sirens

Herbert James Draper (1864-1920) was born in London and studied at St. John's Wood Art School prior to entering the Royal Academy Schools in 1884. Draper showed talent early on and received a gold medal and a scholarship that helped him to travel to Rome and to study at Academie Julian in Paris.

Draper showed his works at the Royal Academy from 1897 until his death, although he was never a member of the Academy (or even an associate). Most of his paintings dealt with subjects from English poetry, particularly anything having to do with the sea.

This painting, Ulysses and the Sirens, was exhibited at the Academy in 1909. But while it was given a central place, the work was strongly criticised. The Times took a particularly dim view of the work, arguing that "Homer's sirens had nothing to do with the conventional mermaid, and did not cling to the ship; they were beings of an undescribed form who sat in a meadow and sang. Really painters ought not thus to amend the text of their authorities." It seems odd today that an artist would receive such harsh criticism for wandering from his source material, but this was a serious consideration in the Victorian art world. I'm afraid they had little patience with artistic liberties!

I love the exceptional beauty of the figures in Draper's paintings, which reminds me a great deal of some of Waterhouse's other works. Draper does an excellent job of capturing the irresistible sensuality of the sirens, whereas Waterhouse's painting of Ulysses and the Sirens seems to focus more on their magical qualities.

According to Homer's tale, three sirens were rumoured to live on an island close to Cape Pelorus in Sicily. The ladies were said to be able to lure sailors to their deaths with their beautiful voices. Having been forewarned by Circe about the sirens, Ulysses filled his crewmen's ears with wax in order to keep them from jumping overboard. However, if the sirens had been as lovely as the sea maidens in Draper's version, I'm not entirely sure that merely being deaf to their songs would have helped very much!

This post owes much of its biographical info to an excellent article on Draper that is included in The Last Romantics (page 127).
image courtesy of wikimedia commons.


Tracy said...

This is an incredibly dramatic and romantic take on Ulysses and the Sires...such exquisite details *SIGH* Such fun to read of your Columbian adventures your previous looks beautiful there by the coast! Happy Summer Days ((HUGS))

Luckie said...

I'm glad to see someone else loving this wonderful painting !! Draper nowadays seems to be forgotten and that's a terrible shame !! I just saw this picture some days ago in Milan (I'm Italian) and I stood dumbfounded looking at it !!! :-)

karismartist said...

I love this one too... I can stare at it for eternity. Wonderful sensual piece. The Waterhouse one is more dramatic and scary, this one is so seductive! Thanks for this blog! I made a link to mine