Mermaids and Muses


“When first the sisters had permission to rise to the surface, they were each delighted with the new and beautiful sights they saw; but now, as grown-up girls, they could go when they pleased, and they had become indifferent about it. They wished themselves back again in the water, and after a month had passed they said it was much more beautiful down below, and pleasanter to be at home.

Yet often, in the evening hours, the five sisters would twine their arms round each other, and rise to the surface, in a row. They had more beautiful voices than any human being could have; and before the approach of a storm, and when they expected a ship would be lost, they swam before the vessel, and sang sweetly of the delights to be found in the depths of the sea…” —  Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid

This lovely 1886 painting titled The Sea Maidens was done by female Pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919.)  It was meant to depict the mermaid sisters in Andersen’s fairy tale.

Evelyn De Morgan (born Mary Evelyn Pickering)  was home schooled and began her drawing lessons at the tender age of fifteen.  Her work dealt mostly with mythological, biblical and literary themes. She was greatly influenced by Pre-Raph giant Edward Burne Jones. At age eighteen she enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London — although she, like many other Pre-Raph artists, objected to the formal curriculum and never finished her degree.

Evelyn married the ceramicist William De Morgan in 1887. The couple were pro-peace, pro-women activists, objecting to wars and advocating for women’s right to vote.

If the mermaids in this painting all look alike, there is a reason for it — they are all actually the same model, Jane Mary Hales.  Interestingly, according to ART UK, Evelyn had a “very close and passionate relationship” with Jane.  When she died, Evelyn was actually buried in between her husband, William, and Jane, at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.   Jane is referred to as “companion, model and muse”.

Pretty heavy stuff for a Victorian woman, eh?

Evelyn once wrote in her diary: “Art is eternal, but life is short. I will make up for it now, I have not a moment to lose.”

Evelyn de Morgan



18 comments on “Mermaids and Muses

  1. Mermaids and Pre-Raphaelite art… You had me at hello on this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I love the Pre-Raphs, and mermaids!! I still think the Pre-Raphs never got their due as artists. I plan on writing more about them in the new year 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perhaps not in the fine art set,I agree, but certainly among the literary crowd and today with fantasy art enthusiasts and modern pagans. It’s a different kind of appreciation, maybe one that’s more honest. I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts on this.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “More honest” I think is the key… What the intellectual art world did not see is seen with the heart 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • It always seemed to me the intellectual art world was always the last set of people to appreciate art in its own time. I was thinking more about this in terms of the Pre-Raphs. Impressionism was accepted late because of the art world, and that influence may be what torpedoed the Pre-Raphs. Art had become far more abstracted for a while. It’s like they were decades off, either early or late, compared to the trends. One more reason I respect them. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes — true art, and all inspired art starts not in the intellectual world but in the streets. Then — like many cultural movements, the ‘powers that be’ decide whether it is worth accepting and promoting it, often years too late!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Paula Sandy says:

    Love the Pre-Raphs but didn’t know about Evelyn so will have to read up on her . Yes please write more on them they are a fascinating bunch .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mermaid-approved! 🙂 The Pre-Raphaelites are my major influence. Looking forward to more of your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. emje says:

    i love this! i want to see more of her art.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Vicky V says:

    I am really enjoying learning about these artists – especially the female ones – so please keep writing about them! That was an interesting fact about her burial. Intriguing 🙂
    I just looked up Evelyn’s work and I am in love with her painting “The Love Potion.” Thanks for introducing me to another artist I can explore.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. And I was in love with The Little Mermaid as a child, which I read and read and read. (Because I was one of six girls? loved swimming? loved to use my voice?) The painting is steamy indeed, and I’m so glad to hear that Evelyn was a feminist. The story lends itself to diverse interpretations, to say the least. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Doreen says:

    I love this! Many favorite things. This painting reminds me of a recent read, the Irish tale of a man who fell in love with a mermaid and courted her. Finally she agreed to marry him but was first tested by her father. The Merfather said if he could identify his beloved from a lineup up the mermaid and her sisters he could marry her. The sisters emerged from the sea and lined up. All of the sisters were identical. Finally his beloved managed to tip him off and he won her hand.

    Liked by 1 person

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