The Siren is a painting by the English artist John William WaterhouseEnglish artist known primarily for his depictions of women set in scenes from myth, legend or poetry. He is the best known of that group of artists who from the 1880s revived the literary themes favoured by the Pre-Raphaelites. . Completed in about 1900, it depicts a pale-skinned maiden seated on a rock strumming a lyre as she gazes down at a drowning mariner. Her shimmering fish-scale covered calves are speckled with seaspray; she watches him with an air of curiosity rather than the predatory portrayal of the subject favoured by Waterhouse’s European counterparts. The mariner is almost submersed in calm waters, yet a ship’s mast oscillating nearby hints at a recent storm. Waterhouse endows the sailor with a well-muscled masculine physique, although enigmatically he exhibits feminine characteristics in his face, his hairstyle and his wearing of an earring.
Mermaids enticing seafarers to their demise was a popular theme among artists at the time. Waterhouse had just completed his Diploma Picture of The Mermaid in 1900, and this painting shares similar qualities. A common style is applied to both artworks in rendering the rocks and water. According to art historian Peter Trippi, work on The Siren was likely undertaken for “quick commercial sale”. Commissioned by Thomas Agnew’s, an art dealers, it was purchased by James Gresham (1836–1914) for £450 on 1 February 1901.[a]Gresham was an amateur artist and industrial engineer; he founded the manufacturing company Gresham & Craven.
The painting follows the artist’s earlier formulations of connecting death, music and sex within his artwork, as seen in for instance his 1892 depiction of CircePainting by John William Waterhouse completed in 1892, his second depiction of the Greek mythological character Circe. Painting by John William Waterhouse completed in 1892, his second depiction of the Greek mythological character Circe. InvidiosaPainting by John William Waterhouse completed in 1892, his second depiction of the Greek mythological character Circe. .