Sappho was an ancient Greek poet who is remembered for her beautiful odes to love and desire. These poems often speak eloquently and poignantly of the suffering that lovers can experience.
In this watercolor, Gustave Moreau reveals his ability to capture a moment of intense emotion. The artist has depicted Sappho languishing on an isolated cliff, her Classically inspired features frozen in an expression of utter despair. The tip of a stylized musical instrument can be glimpsed behind the poet, which reinforces her connection to poetry and music.
Moreau was a master of depicting melancholy in his paintings, as this watercolor demonstrates. In addition, it is worth noting that the artist was haunted by the story of Sappho. He revisited the motif of the melancholy poet many times during his artistic career, in watercolor, pencil drawings, sketches, and oil paintings.
More information about the role that Sappho played in ancient Greek poetry can be found at Mythography.
Robert Goldwater's book introduces us to the some of the artists and concepts involved with the complicated but fascinating art movement known as Symbolism. In chapters with such provocative titles as "Suggestion, Mystery, Dream", the author leads us to an understanding of this important 19th century style.