Circe ( The Sorceress)

JOHN WILLIAM WATERHOUSE (1849-1917) Biography
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848) Biography

Circe ( The Sorceress) (England, 1911 - 1915)

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Oil on canvas
Inscribed on the reverse Circe

Dimensions

76.00cm high
110.50cm wide
(29.92 inches high)
(43.50 inches wide)
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Provenance

The artist's sale, Christie's, 23rd July, 1926, lot 19 (46 guineas to Sampson)
Christie's, 14th April 1967, lot 54 (to Saunders)
The Honorable Christopher Lennox-Boyd

Literature

Anthony Hobson, The Art and Life of John William Waterhouse, R.A., 1980, page 191, plate 132, catalogue number 182.
Elizabeth Prettejohn, Peter Trippi, Robert Upstone, Patty Wageman, J. W. Waterhouse 1849 - 1917 The Modern Pre-Raphaelite, Catalogue of the travelling exhibition at Groninger Museum 14 December 2008 - 3 May 2009, Royal Academy, London 27 June - 13 September 2009 and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts 1 October 2009 - 7 February 2010, number 57, illustrated page 183

Exhibition History

J. W. Waterhouse 1849 - 1917 The Modern Pre-Raphaelite, Groninger Museum 14 December 2008 - 3 May 2009, Royal Academy, London 27 June - 13 September 2009 and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts 1 October 2009 - 7 February 2010, number 54

Description / Expertise

Circe was the daughter of Helios the sun god and was an immensely powerful witch who lived on the Island of Aeaea. She was described by various classical writers, most notably Homer who called her a goddess. In all the legends she is described transforming her enemies, or those who refused her love, into animals, birds or monsters. Homer described how many of Circe’s victims, turned into wolves or lions, prowled about the stone-built house in which she lived and where she worked on a huge loom. These animals were never dangerous, but rather fawned on all visitors. When Odysseus came to Aeaea his men were immediately turned into swine. Fortunately Odysseus had learnt from Hermes how to overcome Circe’s magic by making her swear, while under the influence of a herbal drug, not to harm him. Odysseus spent a year with Circe and was her lover. She returned his men to him and when he left her she advised him on the next stage of his journey into the realm of Hades where he was to consult the spirits of the dead.

Various versions of this subject exist; an alternative title of The Sorceress has been given to them on occasions, but the attributes of Circe, her accompanying wild beasts (here leopards but in another version bears), and her loom, seen on the right-hand side of the picture, make the mythological subject of the painting clear. Burne-Jones had previously treated the subject of Circe.