John William Waterhouse exhibited two paintings at the Royal Academy in 1892: Danaë and Circe Invidiosa: Circe Poisoning the Sea.
"Danaë ... showed the emergence on the island shore of Seriphus of the young mother and her infant son Perseus from the chest in which they had been set adrift by her father, King Acrisius of Argos. This picture and Circe Invidiosa were 'achievements of a high order, and mark the steady and rapid advance of a powerful painter and a true artist of earnestness and imagination'. Waterhouse's gentle nature is also apparent in these pictures. Danaë quietly cradles her baby... .
Circe Invidiosa is today in an Australian museum (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide), but the current wheareabouts of Danaë is unknown. After Danaë was exhibited in 1892 at the Royal Academy in London, it was exhibited later that same year at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition and priced at 600 pounds. By 1909, it was in the private collection of Mrs Julia Ellsworth Ford who resided in New York, USA. In 1947, it was reported as stolen from her home, and has not been heard of since. It is known to us today only by a black and white reproduction.
When originally exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892, the painting was sized 33 x 51 in (84 x 130 cm). It has been reproduced in the following publications (always in black and white):
- Royal Academy Pictures, 1892
- Academy Notes, 1892
- Pall Mall Gazette: "Pictures of 1892" (page 31), 1892
- The Art Journal (page 1), Christmas 1909
- Hobson, The Art and Life of JW Waterhouse, RA (page 75), 1980
- Trippi, J.W. Waterhouse (page 117), 2002
Danaë, in black and white
The standard reproduction of Danaë is the picture shown below. It was originally published in Royal Academy Pictures and Academy Notes in 1892, and subsequently republished in the other publications listed above.
Some time after, or during, its appearance at the 1892 Liverpool Autumn Exhibition where it was being offered for sale at £600, Danaë was sold to Mrs Julia Ellsworth Ford. R.E.D. Sketchley wrote in 1909 that she had not seen Danaë since 1892 and that it was 'in America':
"And it happens that in Mr. Waterhouse's 'series of elements,' as in that of Persephone, the waters come before the earth. A vivid impression is in my mind of 'Ulysses and the Sirens', 'Circe Invidiosa' and 'Danaë,' as spells of deep sea-colour, though I have not, I think, seen them since they were exhibited at the Academy in 1891 and 1892. The two first went to Australia, 'Ulysses and the Sirens' being chosen by Sir Hubert von Herkomer for the Melbourne Gallery. 'Danaë' is in America."
In the above paragraph, Sketchley also offers a clue about the colours Waterhouse used for Danaë, commenting upon the "deep sea-colour" of the waters. The sea in Ulysses and the Sirens has an especially dramatic and vivid blue colour. (The reproduction on this site does not do it justice — to get a better idea of the sea's colour in Ulysses and the Sirens, take a look at the later painting Tristan and Isolde with the Potion).
It is also interesting to speculate whether Waterhouse altered any details of Danaë after it was initially exhibited and photographed. He did do this with at least two or three other paintings: Circe Invidiosa (painted out the serpent's tail), Ophelia (altered the facial expression of Ophelia, and the background) and The Crystal Ball (painted out the skull, though this may not have been his doing).
Danaë In Colour
In the summer of 2004, an oil painting came up for auction at Ebay. It bore many similarities with Waterhouse's 1892 Danaë, and the seller listed it as 'Danaë', after JW Waterhouse, and speculated that it was the work of a student copyist. The seller dated it to the late 19th century or early 20th century, based on its condition. He had come across it in a Southampton house clearance (along with other copies of paintings by Waterhouse and Sir Frank Dicksee).
Danaë, after Waterhouse
This painting is intriguing because one wonders when and where it was made. It seems that Danaë had never been published in colour, and had not been seen in public since 1892. Therefore, how did the copy come to be made? One possibility is that the student painted it in situ at the London or Liverpool exhibitions; or saw it exhibited, and later painted it from the reproduction in RA Pictures or The Art Journal, adding the colours from memory. Another possibility is that the student saw it in the collection of its American owner — however, the copy was found in southern England — a long distance away from America.
Some details of the copy differ from the original version: for example, there is a variation in the waves, the baby is smaller and the expression on Danaë's face is calmer than in the original. Perhaps Waterhouse made these changes after 1892 or, more likely, it was simply a case of the copyist not copying the original faithfully, or being unable to do so due to artistic limitations.
Whatever the reason for the existence of this painting, it is very interesting to see because it gives us a possible insight into the colours of the original painting. Hopefully, one day the original version of Danaë will be found and we can judge for ourselves how accurate the copyist was!
- Anthony Hobson, The Art and Life of J.W. Waterhouse, RA, 1849-1917, Studio Vista / Rizzoli, 1980
- Pall Mall Gazette, The Pictures of 1892, London, 1892
- R.E.D. Sketchley, J.W. Waterhouse, R.A., Art Journal, Christmas 1909, London
- Peter Trippi, J.W. Waterhouse, Phaidon Press, 2002