Mythology on Canvas (Part 16)

The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper
The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper

This painting really grabbed me. The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper might be my favorite from this artist. It is far more than a depiction of a nude woman on a rock in a stream. That in itself makes for an interesting composition, but it is only upon realizing what a kelpie is that the viewer feels the full impact. This particular work abounds with subtlety and implication.

Kelpies were said to be shape-shifting creatures which sometimes appeared as women and which drowned unsuspecting men who were drawn too close to the water. Now the power of this painting becomes evident when we realize that this gracefully proportioned woman in languid repose is extremely dangerous. Her relaxed, pensive posture is in contrast to the motion of the rapids and the damage of which she is capable. The realism of the rocks, water, and trees provide vividness to the scene.


Finally, there is the expression on the woman’s face (shown also in the above study sketch for the final painting). She looks calm, enigmatic, and threatening. The angles of her eyebrows, the slant of her glance, and the set of her mouth betray a grim determination. One can almost see the treacherous thoughts forming behind her forehead.

This series will conclude next week before we go on to other topics.

4 thoughts on “Mythology on Canvas (Part 16)”

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