Sir Edward John Poynter's Cave of the Storm Nymphs, painted in 1903, is a characteristic work of legend and fantasy whose imagined reproductions of life in classical times garnered immense popular acclaim. When a young, troubled boy, the artist met the great Frederick Leighton in 1853 and upon his return to London began to study classicist painting. Early in his prestigious career, Poynter became Slade Professor at University College London, the first individual to hold this preeminent post. Tending towards large-scale canvases Poynter's work often featured a vast array of textures, shades, ornaments, and varying depths, to highlight his great technical abilities. Yet, soon after his appointment to the Royal Academy, the artist's prodigious productive capabilities declined and he settled into his administrative role. With the emergence of modernism at the beginning of the twentieth century Poynter was rapidly becoming a symbol of the old order. Cave of the Storm Nymphs is therefore an address to an Edwardian audience still reeling from the sudden end of the Victorian age and the approach of a brave new world.
Cave of the Storm Nymphs is a luxurious imagined reproduction of the classical icons of disquiet and disorder. Setting the scene amidst the debris of a shipwreck, the cold, splashing scene of play resonates from the canvas, suffusing this heart-rending scene with a curious sensuality. A master. Almost the only salvation are the sharp shards of light that light the reclining forms of the destructive nymphs. Famous in Greek mythology for luring sailors to horrible deaths against the rocks to cure their eternal boredom, the viewer is placed in the viewpoint of the damned seamen – enraptured by the beauty of the figures and innocent of the unfolding catastrophe.
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