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The Fisherman and the Syren

Photo credit: Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

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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.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery



The Fisherman and the Syren




oil on canvas


H 66.4 x W 48.9 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

gift from the Honourable Mrs Charles Lyell, 1938

Work type



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Normally on display at

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Queens Road, Bristol, Bristol BS8 1RL England

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