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Frederic Leighton is the only artist to have been elevated to the peerage. At the early age of 48 he became president of the Royal Academy and a pillar of the Victorian art establishment and the classical school. This early work both illustrated and was inspired by a poem by Goethe, which tells the story of a mermaid who rises from the waters to complain to a fisherman that he is enticing her children to death. Gradually the mermaid's own beauty lures the fisherman into the water and to oblivion. A contemporary critic noted the 'irresistible seductiveness' of the mermaid but he observed also that this 'young artist has plainly drunk long and eagerly at the fount of beauty that assuaged the thirst of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael'. It was in exactly that spirit that Leighton was to be so much admired.
The Fisherman and the Syren
oil on canvas
H 66.4 x W 48.9 cm
gift from the Honourable Mrs Charles Lyell, 1938