Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, 1864-1920. c. 1909. Oil on canvas, Courtesy of Fehrens Art Gallery, Hull Museums Collections, Accession No: KINCM:2005.4878. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The museum's website explains,

The depiction of the sirens is an interesting one as Homer's account was rather vague and artists usually drew them as bird like figures with female heads. Draper, however, depicts them as mermaids and young women. We see a boat full of muscly sailors apparently terrified by three nude girls. As they climb aboard, an act of assertive sexuality, the sirens change from mermaids into women.

The theme of the nymph and the temptress became something of an obsession in Draper's work. This work was done later in Draper’s career, when he was a married man, and contrasts dramatically with an earlier work by him The Sea Maiden which shows the sailors as the aggressors.

The picture contains many contrasts; the sea and the air, the masculine and the feminine, the dark and the light, hard and soft. These contrasts are enhanced by the colours used by Draper with the sailors being dark and weather beaten, the sirens are pale and untouched by the sun like an English Edwardian lady.

Related Material


Toll, Simon. Herbert Draper, 1863-1920: A Life Study. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors Club, 2003.

Last modified 30 October 2012