In the lyrical painting titled The Garden of the Hesperides, Lord Leighton has depicted a subject that is inspired by poetry and Classical mythology. And as with many of the artist's late works, the idyllic beauty of the Golden Age is brought vividly to life in this magnificent image.
According to contemporary sources, Leighton drew part of his inspiration from the following lines from Milton's Comus:
"All amid the Gardens fair
Of Hesperus and his daughters three
That sing about the golden tree."
In Greek mythology, the Hesperides were nymphs who guarded the legendary Golden Apple Tree, and they were assisted in this task by the dragon Ladon. In this painting, Ladon is represented as an unusually large serpent, his sinuous form entwined around both the tree and one of the Hesperides. The ancient Greeks believed that the nymphs lived in a beautiful, secluded garden, where they sang enchanting songs. Leighton is faithful to this feature of the myth, for one of the nymphs - she appears on the left and is clad is in a vibrant orange gown - is singing and playing the lyre.
The two other Hesperides seem to be lost in reverie. One sister, who wears a rich robe of brown, sleeps. The other nymph lazily extends a hand to caress the snake Ladon. Observing the figures arranged in such relaxed poses, it is easy to be seduced by the sensuous mood of this painting.
Learn more about the Hesperides at Mythography.
The Art of Lord Leighton
In this beautiful book, author Christopher Newall examines the life and works of eminent Victorian artist Frederic Leighton. The chapters deal with Leighton's evolution as a painter, from his early phase as "The Outsider", to success as "The President of the Royal Academy". And there are plenty of gorgeous color images to complement the text.
Christopher Wood's elegant and informative book features a comprehensive "who's who" of Victorian artists, from Pre-Raphaelite masters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to what Wood terms the Olympian Dreamers - including Lawrence Alma-Tadema, G.F. Watts, and Albert Moore. And the stunning images of paintings make this book a true treasure. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates Victorian art.