Monday, 17 November 2008

Mythical Venus: Syrinx by Arthur Hacker

Triple P has decided to move some of the appropriate entries from the Adventures of Triple P to this site. This also gives us the chance to expand on the originals somewhat. Firstly, we look at Arthur Hacker's Syrinx painted in 1892.

Hacker (September 25, 1858–November 12, 1919) was French trained and, like Herbert Draper, was very influenced by Waterhouse. Later in his life he eschewed the biblical and mythological pictures which had made his name in favour of much more impressionistic work, such as his diploma work for his election as a Royal Academician in 1910, A Wet Night in Piccadilly Circus (which was not well received at the time). Towards the end of his life he rturned to the themes for which he was better known.

Syrinx was a water nymph pursued by the God Pan who had dubious intentions towards her. She called for help from the other water nymphs who, rather unhelpfully, transformed her into reeds which gave forth a haunting sound when Pan breathed across them. So he cut some of these reeds and made the original Pan pipes from them. Symbolically odd, in all sorts of ways, but then that's the ancient Greeks for you. I would have thought that however much she valued her chastity being ravished by Pan would have been a lot better than being turned into a bunch of reeds and then cut up to form pipes so a Romanian could produce an annoying soundtrack to an arty Australian film of the seventies.

Anyway, all this classical inspiration obviously did the stuff for Arthur, or maybe it was the model, who is rather fine and was used by Hacker in several other paintings, notably The Annunciation (also 1892) and The Temptation of Sir Percival (1894). We saw the original painting of Syrinx in the Manchester Art Gallery several years ago.

Hacker painted some other fine nudes but none as good as Syrinx one, we feel.

One notable example, however, is Circe (1893). Sadly we could only find a black and white reproduction of this, but even in this she looks suitably tempting. Certainly Odysseus' crew look quite agonised.

This one has no mytholgical pretensions or justifications; it is simply called Nude woman at her toilet and was painted in 1918, the year before his death.

This painting, Daphne (1895), can be seen as a companion to Syrinx in composition as well as Classical subject matter.

The Sea Maiden (1897), was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1898.

Finally, we have the rather bizarre earlier painting Pelagia and Philammon (1887). This is based on a scene from Charles Kingsley's (The Water Babies) novel Hypatia about the Alexandrian scholar who was murdered by Coptic monks in the early fifth century AD. In the book Pelagia and Philammon are sister and brother, who are separted at childhood. Philammon becomes a monk, Pelagia a dancer and courtesan. They are reunited in Alexandria but get separated in the chaos following Hypatia's murder. Twenty years later Philammon discovers his sister has become a Christian hermit in the desert but when he finds her she is at the point of death. He gives her the sacrament only to be found later dead next to his sister's grave having kept the vultures at bay whilst he dug her grave. Hacker had just returned from a visit to North Africa, hence the interest in painting a desert setting. The vultures he drew from ones in London Zoo, however.

We will return to Hypatia herself shortly.

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