Tag Archives: The Kelpie

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Naiad

"You are in a place of peril. Walk in hope and righteous fear. Stay your course. Be not distracted. There are winsome spirits here." From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
“You are in a place of peril. Walk in hope and righteous fear.
Stay your course. Be not distracted. There are winsome spirits here.”
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

This is another spiritual being from mythology and folklore which makes my imagination run. So much has been and can be done with Naiads. In Greek mythology, they were water nymphs who were particularly associated with bodies of freshwater such as rivers and streams. Certain of them were among the various classes of nymphs and sprites who were courted or raped by some of the male gods.

A Naiad by John William Waterhouse
A Naiad by John William Waterhouse

Their behavior toward humans is described as variable in various legends. These feminine spirits could be helpful, frivolous, or jealous. They could also be dangerous. They have sometimes been shown as abducting…

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse
Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

… or even drowning men. The pictures below take two different and compelling approaches. In The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper, we see a type of “before” picture. For me, the strength of this painting is in the combination of its title and the relaxed posture and facial expression of its subject. A subtle intensity smolders in her eyes, and the relative peace of the composition suggests her lethal capability.

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

This next painting is of the “during” variety. The posture of the Naiad is submissive save for the grip of her hands on a fisherman’s arms. This contrast is poignant, and the poor man is doomed while still alive.

A siren (or sprite or Naiad) is shown pulling a fisherman under in this painting by Knut Ekwall.
A siren (or sprite or Naiad) is shown pulling a fisherman under in this painting by Knut Ekwall.

A question I have asked myself is whether or not the representations of women as being helpless or dangerous might have arisen as a result of attitudes which limit their roles in society. In such cases, are those who cannot be controlled regarded as threatening? I’ve gotten on my high horse before. Now I’ll beat my dead one by saying again that I think there is tremendous room for creativity in the way that female characters of many kinds can be portrayed in the mythologies we create for our entertainment and instruction. In my own poem, I have tried to use the Naiads’ combination of perceived vulnerability and lethal capability in portraying them as something which I hope is different.

As I said near the top of this post, Naiads are usually described as being freshwater nymphs or spirits. I will end with the creative approach in the painting below by Gustave Dore in which these mysterious creatures are shown in a different setting. They almost seem to be part of the rocks in this seascape.

Naiads of the Sea by Gustave Dore
Naiads of the Sea by Gustave Dore

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.

draper_herbert_james-study_for__the_kelpie_-OM72f300-10001_20120125_19571_91

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.