Imagination alone saves us from turmoil.
Imagination alone saves us from turmoil.
“I must be a mermaid… I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
“The mermaid is an archetypal image that represents a woman who is at ease in the great waters of life.” — Anita Johnson
“Mermaids don’t drown.” ―
The mermaid represents a woman’s physical and emotional depths. The Siren’s song, in mythology, was typically a thing to be feared, for sailors who followed it often ended up in a shipwreck. And yet, without these mesmerizing mythical creatures, our seas would be sadly lacking.
Mermaids not only weather the storm, they welcome it. Mermaids live in duality, embodying humanness along with a wild, animalistic and instinctual side. They are as changeable as the water itself, and yet they are ancient, a thing of complete and utter permanence.
How long have mermaids been around? Forever! Which is one reason why we should heed the wisdom of these divas from the deep.
The archetype of the mermaid has appeared in the folklore of every culture and people. They have popped up in the South Seas, the Greek Islands, the tundras of Siberia, the coasts of Africa and sun worshipping Scandinavia.
In Brazil, tribute is paid to the water goddess Yemoja. From Syrian legend came the Dea Syria, mother of all mermaids. Slavic cultures have tales of the Rusalka, water nymphs that can both harm and help humankind. Lithuanian folklore tells of Jurate, who lived in an amber palace beneath the Baltic Sea.
The far east also has no lack of mermaids. Korean mythology tells of Princess Hwang-Ok from an undersea kingdom of mermaids known as Naranda. There is also the tale of Kim Dam Ryeong, the Korean mayor of a seaside town, who once saved four hundred mermaids from being captured by fishermen. Chinese literature dating as far back as 4 B.C. speaks of mermaids who “wept tears that turned into pearls.”
Folklore from the British Isles is peppered with tales of mermaids. The Norman chapel of Durham Castle, built by Saxons, contains an artistic depiction of a mermaid that dates back to 1078. (One must wonder why busy Saxon masons would bother to etch a mermaid into the wall. They had cathedrals to build!)
In Cornwall, there is a legend of a mermaid who came to the village of Zenmor. There, she listened to the singing of a chorister named Matthew Trewhella. The two fell in love, and Matthew went with the mermaid to her home at Pendour Cove. Needless to say, he was never seen again. On summer nights, it is said the lovers can be heard singing together.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus reported seeing three mermaids near the Dominican Republic. Henry Hudson (of Hudson River fame) recorded in his captain’s log in 1608 that his crewmen had spotted a mermaid in the river. The sailors claimed that from the navel up “her back and breasts were like a woman’s” but when she dove under the water “they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise.”
In 1614, Captain John Smith (of Jamestown Colony and Pocahontas fame) recorded a mermaid sighting in his captain’s log. While sailing near the coast of Newfoundland, Smith wrote that he saw a woman “swimming with all possible grace.” He stated: “Her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive.” (Green hair!) He also claimed “from below the stomach the woman gave way to the fish.”
Are mermaids real? Would these prominent men lie, and risk looking ridiculous in their logs?
A more recent mermaid sighting occurred in 2009. In the seaside town of Kiryat Yam, Israel, dozens of other people reported seeing the same astonishing sight: a mermaid frolicking in the waves near the shore.
A mermaid’s endeavors are not to be taken on by the shallow of heart. She moves in synchronicity with the ocean’s tides, rides the waves, rules the waters. The mermaid is passionate and generous, sometimes even granting wishes. Just don’t cross her; she can be deadly.
I hope summer finds you near an ocean, lake, pond or pool. (And if you happen to see one of these watery women, approach with caution.)
These beautiful portraits were done by contemporary Russian artist Victor Nizovtsev. Have a lovely, magical and mer-aculous day!
Anything to get the taxes lowered.
According to legend, Lady Godiva was an 11th century noblewoman, married to Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. When Leofric levied an unfair tax upon the town of Coventry, in which Godiva herself was a landholder, Godiva pleaded with her husband to eliminate it. Leofric refused, but jokingly quipped that he would do so if Godiva would ride naked on horseback through the streets.
Surprisingly, Godiva took her husband up on the dare. With one stipulation. She demanded that the citizens of Coventry would remain indoors with their windows shut, and no one look as she rode naked through the town, covered only by her long hair.
The town folk, for the most part, honored Godiva’s request. Only one man, named Tom, dared to take a peek. Tom was punished for his evil deed by being immediately struck blind. Hence the name “Peeping Tom” which is still used to describe nosy perverts who peek in the windows at naked ladies.
To be fair, while historians agree that Godiva and Leofric were real historical figures, most believe that the story of Godiva’s horseback ride is probably false. For one thing, the legend did not appear until the 13th century, almost 200 years after Godiva’s death. It was written by an English monk, one “Roger of Wendover”, who was reportedly known for stretching the truth in his writings.
For another thing, the town in question was actually owned by Godiva herself. She had inherited it from her father. (In 11th century England, women were allowed to own land.) So — the taxes imposed would be up to Godiva, not Leofric. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Leofric would have wanted to humiliate his wife in public. In Anglo-Saxon England, a woman could divorce her husband, and still keep her own property, so Leofric had a lot to lose.
The character of Peeping Tom did not become part of the story until the 17th century, and is attributed to Puritan sentiments about harsh punishments for sin.
Nonetheless, Godiva’s legend continues. She even had chocolates named after her! It is a titillating idea, a naked woman on a horse.
The above painting was done by female Pre-Raphaelite artist Ethel Mortlock (allegedly born 1865 – died 1928. But those dates are debatable.)
Ethel was apparently quite a character. Even her given birth and death dates are uncertain, as she was known to lie about her age, systematically knocking off a few years to make herself appear younger. She never married and had a son out of wedlock who was later adopted by another family member. Willie, the son, always referred to Ethel as his ‘aunt’, an artist who had work exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Ethel Mortlock studied under Sir William Orchardson, a prestigious Scottish portrait artist who became a knight in 1907. Ethel, too, made her living through portraiture. Her clients included world renowned figures such as Arthur Wellesley the Duke of Wellington, Abu Bakar the Sultan of Johore, Robert Lowe the 1st Viscount of Sherbrooke. and Edward, Prince of Wales (the famous abdicating king) whom she painted in 1926.
Ethel’s income as an artist enabled her to live pretty well. However, court records show that she filed for bankruptcy in 1901, having run up several gambling debts through betting on horses. (Ironically her portrait of Lady Godiva features a horse!) In her own defense, Ethel claimed she had painted portraits of the Shah of Persia and the Chinese Viceroy, Li Hung Chang, but they had jilted her on their payments and owed her thousands of pounds. She could easily get herself out of debt if only the foreign royals would pay up! Apparently, the Shah and the Viceroy were not available for comment.
The bankruptcy did not dampen her artistic drive. She continued to paint and travel. Ship manifests show her coming and going to exotic places such as Buenos Aires, Jamaica, and New Zealand, as well as Ireland and the United States. She was often accompanied by her “ferocious bulldog”, named Grimshaw.
By 1904 Ethel had exhibited 29 works at the Royal Academy. No small achievement for a rather obscure and unconventional Pre-Raphaelite female 🙂
For more info on Godiva, watch this short documentary by The History Guy. (Running time 10 minutes.) Hope you like it!
“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.”
Today we celebrate the life of Georgia O’Keeffe! She was an American artist, most famous for her abstract paintings of flowers, bones, and natural landscapes. She herself was a force of nature as well, leaving an imprint and legacy not easily forgotten.
Once you experience her artwork — well — flowers will never look the same again!
Born on November 15, 1887, in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia was the second of seven children. Her parents were dairy farmers who valued education and encouraged their children to explore various interests. The wide Wisconsin landscape, with its vibrant hollyhocks, lilies, irises and greenery, no doubt influenced the young Georgia. Artistic talent seemed to run in the family, as two of her grandmothers had been amateur painters.
Georgia attended college at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, quickly climbing to top of her class. Later she studied at New York City’s Art Student’s League. It was in New York that she was first introduced to modern art movements of the early twentieth century. She visited galleries, in particular Gallery 291, founded by photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.
Located at 291 5th Avenue, 291 frequently introduced new work of modern European and American artists.
It was Alfred Stieglitz who first displayed O’Keeffe’s work — a series of charcoal drawings — at a gallery exhibition in 1916. The unusual drawings were an overnight success. Within two years, Georgia, who had earned her living through teaching, moved to New York City and became part of a group of avant-garde artists.
For a woman, recognition in the male dominated art world was dubious and rare. Nonetheless, Georgia held her own, winning recognition among critics and patrons. She became the highest paid female artist in the US. O’Keeffe, however, never considered herself a ‘feminist’. She wanted to be thought of as simply ‘an artist’ rather than ‘a female artist’.
Although Alfred Stieglitz was a married man, and twenty three years older than O’Keeffe, the two became lovers. In 1924 Alfred left his wife to marry Georgia.
Like all aspects of his life, Alfred made his new bride into a work of art.
Georgia continued to develop her craft. She began to experiment with perspective, painting close-ups of flowers. The first of these was Petunia No. 2, which was exhibited in 1925, followed by works such as Black Iris (1926) and Oriental Poppies (1928).
“If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because… the flower is small. So I said to myself – I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.” — Georgia O’Keeffe
I should mention that these are no quaint little blooms, but more like Alice Through the Looking Glass, grow-so-incredibly-high jungle blossoms, painted on canvasses big enough for you to walk into.
For almost a century, art critics have been insisting that O’Keeffe’s flower paintings were meant to resemble female genitalia. Georgia herself vehemently denied this. What do you think?
“I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.” — Georgia O’Keeffe
In the 1930’s, Georgia found new inspiration in the American west and Navajo culture when she began to visit New Mexico. She found simple yet sublime beauty in the desert, frequently painting landscapes and animal skulls. Cool, huh?
Meanwhile, back in New York, Stieglitz had begun to mentor a young photographer named Dorothy Norman. The two developed a close relationship and – you guessed it! The married Stieglitz began an affair with Dorothy. Georgia became jealous and suffered bouts of depression. In 1933 she was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown and did not paint for a whole year. The nervous breakdown was reportedly due to ‘a broken heart’. (Oh Alfred, you philanderer!)
Her recovery lead her back to New Mexico where she eventually bought property at Ghost Ranch and lived there permanently. However, she never divorced Stieglitz who remained her one true love.
In his later years, Stieglitz’s health deteriorated. He died of a stroke in 1946 at the age of 82. Georgia was with him when he died and was the executor of his estate.
In 1949, Georgia was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In the 1950s and 1960s, she continued to paint and travel the world, finding inspiration in places she visited. In 1970, a retrospective of her work was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis — that we get at the real meaning of things.” — Georgia O’Keeffe
Unfortunately, as Georgia became older she suffered from macular degeneration and began to lose her eyesight. She painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972. However, she never los her love of art and her desire to create. She still continued to create art in the form of sculpture and writing. Her bestselling autobiography Georgia O’Keeffe was published in 1976.
Georgia died on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98. Her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered, as she wished, on the land around Ghost Ranch (perhaps becoming its final ghost?) The spirit of Ms. O’Keeffe will remain influential forever!
“I have lived on a razor’s edge. So what if you fall off? I’d rather be doing something I wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” — Georgia O’Keeffe
Happy Birthday Georgia!
Name one good reason why not.
Daily Prompt Lust
Today, July 25th, marks the birthday of England’s first Victorian supermodel, Elizabeth Siddal.
Over a century before Twiggy hit swinging London, and 150 years before Tyra Banks began her search for America’s Top Model, English beauty Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal was the new face that launched a thousand ships. She was an artist’s model for a group of cutting-edge painters known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
‘America’s Top Model’ — a reality show which takes beautiful urchins from mundane backgrounds off the streets and somehow transforms them into stunning supermodels – may actually have a lot in common with the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood ( PRB.)
In the mid 19th century a group of young painters decided to defy restrictions, throw caution to the wind and break the ceiling of what they thought had become very boring, regulated and prescription art in England. They were led by the rebel stud Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The PRB left behind stuffy universities to begin their own style. Their new art hearkened back to a more naturalistic pre-industrial time, and resembled Renaissance works popular before the painter Raphael became the accepted standard. (Hence the name Pre-Raphaelite.)
To our post-modern eyes, the PRB paintings might look very staid and classic, but in their own time they were quite shocking. One innovative thing the PRB did was to find their models among common people in the streets. These women were often shop girls or prostitutes. The Brotherhood would transform them into magnificent goddesses.
Elizabeth Siddal was one such model. She was born on July 25, 1829 to working class London parents. In her late teens she took a job in a hat shop in Cranbourne Alley. In 1849 Lizzie was ‘discovered’ by PRB artist Walter Deverall, who was working on a painting to depict Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night’.
Deverall needed a model to portray the cross-dressing Viola — in her boy role as Cesario. Elizabeth apparently had the androgynous beauty that was needed for the role.
Lizzie was described as: “a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck, greenish-blue eyes, brilliant complexion and a lavish wealth of coppery golden hair.”
As luck would have it, Deverall’s model for the role of Feste the Fool was fellow painter and notorious bad boy Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Here is the entire panel, Gabriel as the court jester and Lizzie on the far left.
When Rossetti and Elizabeth met, sparks flew. Thus began their tumultuous love affair. They became engaged and defied convention by living together for almost ten years. They finally married in 1860.
Elizabeth became Gabriel’s chief muse. Reportedly, he painted over a thousand portraits of her. He likened her to Beatrice Portinari, the muse of 13th century writer Dante Alighieri (author of The Divine Comedy.) Dante was also Gabriel’s namesake and he seemed to have recreated their courtly love affair, starring himself as Dante and Lizzie as Beatrice.
As torrid as their relationship was, Gabriel’s antics and constant affairs with other models apparently made for a not so smooth ride. Plus, Elizabeth suffered from ill health and eventually became addicted to laudanum.
Nonetheless, they were a fascinating couple! The PRB were the revolutionaries of Victorian London and their beautiful models were the ‘it girls’ of the day. Elizabeth was a poet in her own right, and although her poems were never published in her lifetime, I think they are pretty good.
Here is an excerpt, called Dead Love:
Oh never weep for love that’s dead
Since love is seldom true
But changes his fashion from blue to red,
From brightest red to blue,
And love was born to an early death
And is so seldom true.
Perhaps it is a rather revealing version of her relationship with rogue Gabriel…
Elizabeth posed for numerous paintings and eventually began studying art herself, under Gabriel’s tutelage. She produced many sketches and watercolors. Art critic John Ruskin became her patron, and paid her the modest sum of £150 per year for her work. (That is about £12,000 in today’s money. Still, it was a big deal for a woman to have her own income!)
Elizabeth posed for many character portraits, but perhaps her most famous one was Ophelia by John Everett Millais. Here she stars as Shakespeare’s tragic character from Hamlet who committed suicide by throwing herself in a river.
The image is so lifelike, you almost expect to touch her hands or smell the fragrance of her flowers.
In real life, Elizabeth also committed suicide.
She became pregnant in 1861, but the baby, a girl, was stillborn. Elizabeth, who also had a long history of depression, then suffered from post-partum and entered a dangerous darkness. She died of a laudanum overdose on February 11, 1862.
Although coroners deemed her death an accident, reportedly, Lizzie left a suicide note. Gabriel later destroyed it, as he knew killing oneself in Victorian England was both illegal and immoral, and would have brought scandal upon her family.
Here is an excerpt of one of Lizzie’s eerily prophetic poems, called Early Death:
Oh grieve not with thy bitter tears
The life that passes fast;
The gates of heaven will open wide
And take me in at last.
Then sit down meekly at my side
And watch my young life flee;
Then solemn peace of holy death
Come quickly unto thee.
Now here’s where the story takes a really weird twist!
Gabriel, overcome with grief at his wife’s death, buried in her coffin a book of poems he had written to her.
Seven years later, in 1869, Gabriel became obsessed with the idea of publishing those poems. He, along with his agent Charles Howell, applied for an order to have Elizabeth’s coffin exhumed.
Gabriel, a heavy drinker, may have really gone off the rails at this point. Supposedly he was going blind and was no longer able to paint, and therefore looking to write and publish more poetry.
The exhuming of Lizzie’s grave was done (creepily!) in the dead of night, so as not to draw attention. Gabriel was not present, but Charles Howell claimed that Elizabeth, lying in the opened coffin, was still well preserved with her beauty in tact!
Also her long red hair had continued to grow, and therefore, Elizabeth’s corpse retained much of her stunning charm!
(This is how vampire legends got started. Remember, it was Victorian Times, ripe with Gothic ghost stories of the dormant undead, and other wild imaginings.)
To be fair, laudanum is known to be a great preservative, and Lizzie had plenty of it in her body. Also, she was no stranger to alcohol and other formaldehyde-type drugs. She was a “devoted swallower” of Fowler’s Solution, a so-called complexion improver made from diluted arsenic.
Could all these drugs have made for a well preserved Lizzie? There is a folkloric belief that hair and nails can continue to grow after death.
I cannot help but notice another similarity to Shakespeare’s Ophelia. Hamlet — who was Ophelia’s lover — jumped into her grave at her burial, unable to let her go.
Is truth stranger than fiction?
Whatever one makes of their personal lives, the PRB no doubt left their mark in the art world. They produced some of the most stunning, radiant and thought-provoking works ever created.
Happy Birthday Lizzie!
The TV series Desperate Romantics was a fictional account of the PRB. If you want to know more about them (or just be fabulously entertained by Aidan Turner as Gabriel and Amy Manson as Lizzie!) tune into this episode. Running time is about one hour. Hope you like it! 🙂