J. W. Waterhouse created several hundred paintings on mythological themes. In this, his interests are similar to the Pre-Raphaelites, although he did not formally belong to this group. The plot for the canvas “Odyssey and Sirens” is taken from classical ancient Greek mythology – the legend of the ten-year-old return of the cunning Odyssey to Ithaca.
Ship Odyssey sails past the island, which is inhabited by sirens. In the imagination of the artist, they chose the look of half women, half birds. It should be noted that in a number of paintings they are depicted in the form of semi-libs. The choice of one or another variant depends on the myth that the artist chooses about their origin. In another picture, written a decade later (“The Siren”), the siren is devoid of wings, but has a fish tail.
Sirens are singing. Everyone who hears their voice loses their memory and swims to the island. Where dies. Of all the people depicted in the picture, only Odysseus listens to the singing of sirens, because he is tied to the mast. The rest he ordered to wax his ears and row.
The picture shows that these semi-birds can fly, they can even fly to the ship and sing their songs there. But they cannot do anything more – neither to untie Odysseus, nor to open their ears to the rowers, nor to hinder the monotonous movement of the ship.
Ahead is a narrow passage between two huge cliffs, behind which is a relatively calm sea, the sirens will not fly further. But here we still have to go.
From the majority of works on this plot, the picture of Waterhouse is distinguished by the colorful and elaborate details. Odyssey is not just tied to the mast, he listens and tries to free himself. Rowers – not just rowing, they see sirens and do not know what to expect from them.
Today it is one of the most famous works in the works of the English artist, used as an illustration to this myth. The uniqueness of Waterhouse is in the ability to convey the current situation.