John William Waterhouse, 1849-1917
Oil on canvas
181 x 87 cm.
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
[See commentary below]
Waterhouse's other versions of the subject
Angus Trumble , who describes the painting as "one of the most remarkable images of the femme fatale in Victorian art," contrasts this painting to the earlier Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses: "He sharpened the emotional focus of the subject by removing all unnecessary accoutrement and choosing instead to concentrate upon the raw, supernatural power with which the sorceress ensnares an unwitting rival. The Homeric character of Circe is in this case mediated by a Latin poet, Ovid (Metamorphoses, Book 13: 730ff; 13: 1ff). Having tried without success to lure the deity Glaucus away from the object of his affection the beautiful nymph Scylla, Circe is filled with envious rage. In the seclusion of a quiet grotto, she poisons the water where Scylla goes to bathe and turns her rival into a dreadful sea monster. Waterhouse's handling of the scene is brilliantly economical. With grim determination, Circe empties a bowl of green poison into the waters, have hovering, half standing on the already transformed Scylla, who writhes beneath the surface. Her waist-length hair, meanwhile billows up and out, as if disturbed by a rush of deadly vapours" (p. 102).