But remember how I called him radical? Find the first part of this post HERE.
Ovid, Waterhouse’s most likely source material, tells. He tells who Orithyia’s related to, what her sons do; he tells of Boreas’ anger, he tells of Boreas’ actions—it is all telling, it is all what happens to her. Victorians did a lot of telling themselves; deciding the proper sphere of women, telling them the ideal they ought to live up to.
Waterhouse, however, does no telling at all. He eschews the plot that Ovid, and most other treaters of this tale, focus on. The story is cast aside for the moment Waterhouse depicts.
The girl is aligned with the nature around her. The colors of her clothes echo those around her, she like the nature around her is buffeted by the wind. The deep, soulful colors and textures connect her to her environment; the viewer’s eyes are drawn to her face, framed by her arm, by the billow of her mantle. Her face, her expression, and the daffodil in her ear.
In such a dark, deep color palette, the yellow is surprising. Daffodils are spring, a season far removed from the setting of the painting. Spring is rebirth, and change, and generally, in the language of flowers, that is just what the daffodil symbolizes.
The Metamorphoses is all about rebirth. Characters meet life anew in changed forms, with their life situations changed drastically—and often tragically—along with it. As Peter Trippi puts it, in his book J. W. Waterhouse:
“it was Ovid’s Metamorphoses to which he [Waterhouse] returned in every phase of his career, celebrating physical transformations as emblems of the passage from suffering to acceptance, from death to eternal life”.
In his portrayal of this girl, Waterhouse accepts the unknown. He does not tell us what is happening to her, how she relates to other aspects of the story. He does not tell anything about her, as his time could be so wont to do. Instead, Waterhouse accepts the silence of the moment, focusing in on the girl’s mysterious expression, an expression showing deepness, deep as the colors she wears, as the circles throughout the painting. The daffodil he places behind her ear suggests her own possibilities for transformation, for metamorphosis, subtly transcending the views of his society and time to create a gorgeous exploration of the mystical feminine.
What do you think about all this? Are you a hardcore Waterhouse fan, hater, or new initiate? Comment below!