When I first saw this painting in the book Pre Raphaelite Women Artists (Marsh), I was instantly like “Aww, yiss! Another depiction of how sucky capitalism is!” (don’t @ me). Here we’ve got a King Midas, in golden robes with a big crown and a long beard, who lounges on the ground, unable to look away from his gold coins, rendering him blind to the divinity around him. Also cool is the concept sketch, in which the King is literally bound with chains.
I fell even more in love with this painting when I researched the artist, Evelyn De Morgan. As an art school graduate, Evelyn De Morgan kept the elements of color, symbolism, and fantasy so common in the Pre-Raphaelite style, but replaced the frail, wisps of women prominently featured by some in the genre with “strong, athletic women, who (were) beautiful but robust.” (De Morgan Foundation) Directly below is The Undiscovered City of Light, by Evelyn de Morgan, which displays such a figure.
Again emphasizing her insight into the reality of womankind is Evelyn De Morgan’s painting The Captives (below). On her website, Pre Raphaelite Sisterhood, Sephanie Graham Pinta interprets The Captives as such:
Even in their fear, they attempt to either comfort or protect each other by touching knees or shoulders. Perhaps the lesson in this is that in moments of despair, we should lean on each other and protect one another.Stephanie Graham Pinta
In situations where women are pitted against each other, it is images like The Captives we should use to inspire us. All too often women fall into destructive patterns that tear other women down instead of learning to empower each other. This behavior stems from fear. Both women and men can be imprisoned and conditioned by stereotypical beliefs about our gender, who we are, and how we’re supposed to behave. Are we really full of nothing but drama and gossip? Are we unable to be scientists? Do you honestly think we can not be leaders? Or smart? When we grow past those misguided notions we break free from that captivity. That’s when we look around and see that we are not alone. A sisterhood is there. It is a sisterhood that struggles, sometimes cowering and shielding their eyes like the women in the painting. Yet even in the midst of that fear, we have to reach out to each other.
Further adding to my admiration of her is the fact that Evelyn De Morgan was prominently anti-war, reflecting in paintings her belief that war preys on the innocent and poisons all who live. Her painting S.O.S, pictured below, depicts a female figure standing on a single rock in a vast ocean, turning her head to the heavens as serpentine demons claw at her legs. The De Morgan Foundation interprets this as representing the destruction of war on the burdened and the innocent, such as young, inexperienced soldiers fighting a nightmare or the troubled nations of Syria and Belgium. Also, look at the figure study Evelyn De Morgan did for this painting. Remarkable.
Reflected in her paintings is also Evelyn De Morgan’s complex spirituality. In Victorian England, unorthodox spirituality and clairvoyants were gaining popularity, and Evelyn De Morgan’s own mother in law, Sophia De Morgan, was a medium, and she surely encouraged deeper thinking into the concepts of life and death, as is revealed in many of Evelyn De Morgan’s paintings. Below is shown The Passing of the Soul at Death, displaying a woman whose torch has fallen; though the corpse is ashen and threatened by the nearby dragon, her soul is rising gently, even as the soul reaches back to the body. The body will not reach back.
Another depiction of death is found in The Field of the Slain, a title that connects the painting to the horrors of war. An angel of death is shown here, her cloak holding faces of men, women, the elderly, children. Rather than a killing angel, however, the angel of death is a merciful matron, cradling the heads of children in a more ‘wicked awesome’ version of the shepherd-sheep metaphor.
Rather than end this with words, I would let the art of Evelyn De Morgan bring us out, generously open for your interpretation, reader.
Marleigh V. D.
ENGL 1117 35&53
16 April 2019
Study of a Female Head for ‘S.O.S.’ | The De Morgan Foundation, De Morgan Foundation, http://www.demorgan.org.uk/study-female-head-sos.
“Evelyn De Morgan.” Evelyn De Morgan | The De Morgan Foundation, http://www.demorgan.org.uk/de-morgans/evelyn-de-morgan.
Graham Pina, Stephanie. “The Captives • Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood.” Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, 3 Feb. 2018, preraphaelitesisterhood.com/the-captives/.
Marsh, Jan, and Pamela Gerrish. Nunn. Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists. Thames, 1999.
“S.O.S.” S.O.S. | The De Morgan Foundation, http://www.demorgan.org.uk/S.O.S.