Sappho was a Greek lyric poet born circa 600 BC. She wrote about love, yearning and reflection, often dedicating her poems to the female pupils who studied with her on the island of Lesbos. According to legend, she threw herself herself into the sea from the cliff of Leucadia on account of her unrequited love for Phaon, a young man from Mitylene. Sappho is shown standing on the cliff edge in dark, translucent robes, with her breasts exposed. She rests her left arm lightly on a huge rock and holds her lyre down by her right side. Her face is partly overshadowed by her dark hair and veil, and her dark eyes gaze down into the middle distance. The expanse of sky is storm grey, broken only by a sliver of light on the horizon. Mengin, a pupil of Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889), was a sculptor as well as a painter, and exhibited regularly at the Salon from 1876 to 1927.
Gallery text panel In Pursuit of Beauty Late Victorian Art and Design Improving the quality of British art and design had been a concern since the 1850s. The British Empire had expanded into new continents but it was the classical ideal of beauty, based on Ancient Greek and Roman culture that was still considered the model for serious art. The pursuit of beauty was a form of escapism from the mass-production of industrial Britain. As well as looking to the ancient world, artists and designers were delighted and inspired by the arts of Renaissance Italy, the Middle and Far East. Many of the paintings here feature a beautiful woman. Sometimes she is a passive, decorative form, but often she is a dark and brooding femme fatale, a symbol of seduction, deception and destruction. The 'fatal woman' may reflect late Victorian male fears as women campaigned for equal rights and new roles. The emphasis on colour, harmony and rhythm and simplifying the form of an object would become major concerns in the 20th century. They can be seen emerging here in the work of late Victorian artists and designers.
Canvas: 230.7cm x 151.1cm
Place of creation
[G10] Manchester Art Gallery - Gallery 10
Presented by Mr Thomas James Lloyd.
© Manchester Art Gallery