Liverpool artwork of the week No. 6. ‘An Idyll’ by Maurice William Greiffenhagen (1862 – 1931) Oil on canvas, 1891 in The Walker
This is one of the romantic images available in NML’s Valentine e-card selection. Why not send it to the one you love?
Text from the Walker…
Maurice Greiffenhagen was born in London of parents who had emigrated from Baltic shores. He spent the early years of his career in London until 1906 when he was offered the post of professor of painting at the Glasgow School of Art, where he remained until 1926. Like many of the artists of his era Greiffenhagen began his career by making drawings of antique sculpture in the British Museum. He was only sixteen years old when he was admitted to the Royal Academy School.
A passionate painting
Although Greiffenhagen regularly exhibited in the Royal Academy, ‘An Idyll’ was the painting that established his reputation. The painting was an instant success and as a result was reproduced many times. It depicts a young man dressed as a shepherd embracing a yielding maid on a slope of pastureland. Despite the display of female nudity in many of the paintings surrounding it in the High Victorian gallery at the Walker Art Gallery, explicit embracing scenes are rare.
The shepherd is depicted grabbing the young woman with a sudden powerful movement. Her body falls powerless into his arms, the light colour of her skin contrasts with his. Her expression may have been characterised as ecstatic, but it is striking that she seems more to surrender to the young man’s passion than to actively participate in the embrace. An active role on behalf of the woman in a scene of passionate embrace would have been unacceptable in the eyes of a Victorian audience. However, the woman’s surrender and her gaze captures the passion and spontaneity of the moment.