Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Let Me Drag You into My Watery Abyss

Before I start, let me explain: I don’t really think I want to drag you to a watery abyss.  However, in researching this piece I am forced to examine my feelings on this matter and I am a little concerned, so it is possibly best you don’t turn your back on me.  And under no circumstances lean out of the boat.  Alright?  I shall continue…

I have been researching a set of Edward Burne-Jones drawings for Mr Walker and had an idle wonder as to what my favourite of Ned’s work was.  For some odd reason I immediately thought of The Depths of the Sea (1885).

Surely not.  Surely I love The Briar Rose Series or The Beguiling of Merlin.  Oh, how about The Golden Stair?  In fact, how about anything that does not involve a fish-woman dragging a dead bloke to the bottom of the sea.  What’s wrong with me?  Alright, I know, I quite like The Wheel of Fortune (1883).  No, that’s not better at all, and to be honest I still prefer the fish-woman. 

Apparently, I also want to break you on my giant wheel of fortune...no, not helping myself at all...
I’m not sure what exactly attracts me to The Depths of the Sea.  Well, the gentleman is thought-stealingly lovely, if a little dead, and the woman looks unhinged in her triumph.  I love the little shoal of fish in the top right corner, fleeing from the bubbles that escape the victim, the last of his breath vanishing to the surface as she pulls him into a weird submerged building.

In an attempt to ignore my weird choice of picture my thoughts strayed to Waterhouse, who for some unknown reason is linked in my disturbed brain to Burne-Jones.  I think it may be the pining maidens and the colour schemes – lots of greens, blues and purples.  I thought ‘At least I don’t have to decide on my favourite Waterhouse picture – my God, where would you start?’ but as always my brain was way ahead of me….

I need help.

Just to reassure you, most of you may never have to spend any time in the same room as me.  To the few who will, I really don’t spend my time thinking about drowning pretty young men.

Back to business.  Yes, yes, I adore Hylas and the Nymphs, look at all their lovely little faces, so cute and yet one big splash and he’s done for.  In desperation I turned to the marvellous book Idols of Perversity by Bram Dijkstra.  If you have not read this highly entertaining and thought-provoking book, I thoroughly recommend it.  While not providing exactly comfort, it did provide me with a cavalcade of pictures to say ‘Wow, that’s much weirder than what I like!’

Trust me, this book excels in that aspect.
For example…

The Green Abyss (1895) Aristide Sartorio

Aristide Sartorio’s The Green Abyss is like a nude-y Ophelia.  Look at the contrast between the red of her hair and the green of the water, how milky white she is compared to how bronzed our soon-to-be victim is.  Heavens, it’s both weird and lovely in bucketfuls.

Just to even the score and to make you feel a bit less nervous, here is Herbert Draper’s glorious depiction of catching a ‘Sea Maiden’ in a net.

The Sea Maiden (1894) Herbert Draper
I find the contrast between her skin and the jewel-blue sea very Waterhouse-inspired, as is the deep purple of the nets against the pale pink limbs.  However, I wonder about her lack of tail…

Ulysses and the Sirens (1909) Herbert Draper
Oh, thank you Mr Draper, I see they have the ability to transform tail to feet and vice versa.  That is very clever, I’d be happy to be a Sea Maiden now, the tail thing always put me off, but if you get feet too then that’s fine.   

The Mermaid (1900) Charles Shannon
 This looks a little bit more of a fair fight, as she's not singing and he's been smart enough to keep his hat on.

Sorry, this is probably not calming your concerns about me.  Well, look, just because my favourite Burne-Jones is possibly his most weird, doesn’t make me some sort of Femme Fatale.  I’m about as Fatale as yoghurt.

See, nothing to worry about...


  1. Hi! Came over through a prs facebook link!
    Enjoyed the post, and the paintings...the deranged mermaid & her pretty dead man is my favorite too:)

  2. Hurrah ! It's good to know I'm not alone :)

  3. Beautiful collection!

  4. One of my favorite 'siren drowning sailor' pictures is Lord Leighton's:

    The Fisherman and the Syren

    I love the arch of her body, the pearls twining in her hair, her arms twining about his neck, her tail twining around his legs, and the basket of fish still falling, showing his surprise at what must have been a somewhat alarmingly fast attack on her part.

  5. That is a lovely picture. I beginning to think it wouldn't be half bad to be a mermaid...

  6. My favorite too. I remember it being a lot more colorful in person.

  7. Ah, the problem with reproduction. I'm always suprised at the colours of paintings when I see them in real life after looking at them in books.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx