Part of a series of paintings featuring women in windswept poses, John William Waterhouse’s 1903 canvas Windflowers is an elegant yet ominous rendering of the nervous mood at the beginning of the twentieth century. Usually painting the mythical subjects of classical mythology, read and depicted through the vessels of medieval legend, history, literature, and poetry, Waterhouse was greatly influenced by the surfaces and textures of the Pre-Raphaelite style, fusing the lingering genre of Symbolism with the French naturalistic style. Sharing the Pre-Raphaelites’ eye for a dreamily, Romantic style, Waterhouse was greatly inspired by world literature, particularly of the Western tradition. Having been born in Italy, the artist was raised in the opulent surroundings of a crumbling, classical Italy, which he utilized to construct his haunting, sensual worlds which seem to be imbued with both a child-like innocence and an aggressive sexuality.
Waterhouse’s series of windswept women, painted between 1902 and 1903, appear to be figurative reproductions of women at the mercy of the Greek god, Boreas, who is said to have commanded the North Wind. In the painting the force of the gale bends the trunks of trees dotted across an overcast field as the figure clasps her shawl for protection against the wind. At the mercy of the North Wind of Boreas, and as the natural world sways to an earthly weather, the wrapped woman faces the coming of winter and the violent temper of the God. As Waterhouse would certainly have been aware that the ancient Greeks believed that there was a land beyond the North Wind, hyperborea, where the sun shone day and night and people lived without the fear of aging or the threat of disease. This, like many of the artist’s classical paintings, struck a chord with many who felt alienated by the tumultuous changes of the early twentieth century.
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