Les Océanides (Les Naiades de la Mere)

Les Océanides (Les Naiades de la Mere) by Gustave Doré, 1832-1883. Oil on Canvas, signed "Gve Doré." 73 x 50 inches, 185.5 x 127 cm.


Commentary by Peter Nahum and Sally Burgess

Les Océanides is a haunting interpretation of a scene from Prometheus Bound, a play by Aeschylus, written between 460 and 450 BC. The water nymphs, daughters of the Titan deities Oceanus and Thetis, cling to the rock where Prometheus is chained. His fate was a punishment from Zeus for both stealing back a spark of fire from the Gods and restoring it to man and for holding the secret of the Oracle's prophecy: how the Océanides' mother, Thetis, would bear Zeus a child greater and more powerful than Zeus himself. As further punishment, Zeus ordered the creation of Pandora, the first woman, who released from her box all the evils of the world.

Dramatically lit, Les Océanides, swept by the sea's current onto Prometheus's rock, reveal not only Doré's understanding of chiaroscuro, a talent which can be traced back to his prolific work as an engraver and illustrator, but also the artist's restless meditation on mythology and its relationship to life and death. Doré's oeuvre is a crucial link between French Romanticism and European Symbolism.

Gustave Doré set up his studio in Paris, converting the Amiros Gymnasium in the Rue Bayard to accommodate the enormous canvases he often favoured, which he filled with spectacular flights of his imagination. He opened his celebrated gallery in London at 35 New Bond Street in 1868. The British public, in admiration of his overwhelming imagery, dubbed him 'The Visionary Painter".


Nahum, Peter, and Sally Burgess. Pre-Raphaelite-Symbolist-Visionary. London: Peter Nahum at Leicester Galleries. Catalogue number 32.

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Last modified 1 August 2001