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Mengin, Auguste Charles
Europe, France

First floor: Victorian

oil paint
230.7 x 151.1 cm

More Details

Sappho 1877
Charles-August Mengin 1853-1933
Oil on canvas

Sappho was a Greek poet who lived around 600BC.
She wrote about love, yearning and reflection,
often dedicating her poems to the female pupils
who studied with her on the island of Lesbos.
Many stories are told about her.
Mengin has chosen to paint one
that says she threw herself into the sea
because of unrequited love for a young man:

(Still holding in that fearful leap
By her loved lyre) into the deep,
And dying, quenched the fatal fire
At once, of both her heart and lyre
(Thomas Moore, Evenings in Greece, 1826)

The painting has an intense sexual charge
intended to appeal to male viewers
visiting the officially endorsed Paris Salon exhibition.
Its eroticism was legitimised for them
by the meticulous finish of fine brushstrokes
and the scholarly reference to Classical history.

Gift of T Lloyd 1884.5