In 1893, the British painter John William Waterhouse concluded a decorative panel in oil paint entitled A Hamadryad. This artwork was exhibited during the same year at the Royal Academy in London and is currently located at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, in Devon, UK. Waterhouse had an academic background and established his career by turning to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – a movement that began the year he was born. Although the painter represented the second generation of the movement, he was able to keep the essence of what the original group intended.
Focusing his themes mainly on Greek mythology and Arthurian legends, Waterhouse created fantastical brightly colored large-scale oil paintings, mostly of sensual women. In A Hamadryad, the artist depicted a scene in which a satyr – a half goat, half man mythological character which embodied the raw and sexual masculinity – unknowingly attracts a nymph with the sound of his pan-pipes. Waterhouse used a long vertical canvas to create a peculiar composition. The viewer’s eyes are typically drawn to the image of the nymph in the background, on the top part of the painting, mostly because of her illuminated skin contrasting with the dark atmosphere. As the beautiful female figure faces towards the young satyr on the bottom of the canvas, the viewer is naturally lead to the bottom of the canvas – but it can be seen both ways.
In the ancient Greek mythology, nymphs were divine creatures, but not as superior as Goddesses and, although they lived a lot more than the average human, they were not immortal. These female figures represented the fertility of all things natural and were categorized by the environments they thrived in. For example; nymphs of the sea were called Oceanids, while the Nereids were also from the sea but could be found in freshwater as well. In this painting, Waterhouse portrayed a Dryad, also known as a Hamadryad, the nymph of the woods, forests, and trees. The artist depicted the nude female figure emerging from a tree trunk with overlapping branches and leaves. The satyr sits on the ground at the roots of the majestic tree playing his instrument. His skin is much darker than the nymph’s, as well as his hair. The environment is dark and incredibly detailed.
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