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The picture is one of a series of allegorical subjects which Watts intended for a decorative scheme known as the 'House of Life'. Traditionally the figure of Hope is identified by an anchor, but Watts was seeking a fresher, more original approach. He painted blind Hope seated on a globe and playing on a lyre which has all its strings broken except one. She bends her head to listen to the faint music, but her efforts appear forlorn; the overall atmosphere is one of sadness and desolation rather than hope. The picture's sense of melancholy is enhanced by the soft brushwork and the translucent mists that envelop the floating globe. Watts appears to have drawn on several contemporary sources for the figure of Hope. Her pose is comparable to Rossetti's siren in 'A Sea Spell' of 1877 (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University) and also recalls Albert Moore's sleeping women in 'Dreamers', 1882 (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery).
Further reading: Andrew Wilton and Robert Upstone (eds), 'The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts – Symbolism in Britain 1860–1910', exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.201–202, no.76, reproduced p.65. Christopher Wood, 'Victorian Painting', London 1999, pp.196–204, reproduced p.203, in colour. Frances Fowle December 2000
Oil on canvas
H 142.2 x W 111.8 cm
Presented by George Frederic Watts 1897