Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

This painting engages imagery and literature that Watts encountered on a trip to Greece in 1856. The reclining nude adopts the pose of a marble sculpture on the Parthenon’s pediment. Behind him, figures dive and wade in the water. The scene evokes narratives from ancient Greek poetry in which sirens’ songs lured sailors to rocky coastlines.

Watts completed four versions of this painting over 20 years. During this period, he developed a frame design favored by Victorian artists, known as the “Watts frame.” Seen here, this type of frame was inspired by an Italian Renaissance model. The ornamental moldings have a stylized acanthus pattern on the outer edge and a small leaf-bud pattern on the inner edge. Watts’s modern innovation was to apply gilding directly to the frame’s wide frieze, allowing the oak’s grain to show through. Another version of a Watts frame surrounds Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s "A Sea-Spell," nearby.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
George Frederic Watts, British (London, England 1817 - 1904 Limnerslease, Compton, England)
The Genius of Greek Poetry
Work Type
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2130, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Pre–Raphaelites and Their Legacy
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
66 x 53 cm (26 x 20 7/8 in.)
framed: 97.2 x 85.1 x 6.4 cm (38 1/4 x 33 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.)
The Rt. Honorable Lord Davey, sold [through his sale, Christie's, London, April 20, 1907, lot 85]; to Mary S. Watts, Compton, Surrey, sold [via Martin Birnbaum]; to Grenville Lindall Winthrop, New York, 1928, bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Loan Collection of Paintings by G. F. Watts, R. A., exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1885), no. 121

Catalogue of Important Modern Pictures & a few works by Old Masters, auct. cat., Christie's, London (London, England, April 20, 1907), no. 85

Gabriel Mourey, D. -G. Rossetti et les Preraphaelites anglais, H. Laurens (Paris, France, 1909), p. 115

Mary S. Watts, George Frederic Watts: the Annals of an Artist's Life, The Macmillan Company (London, England, 1912), vol. I p. 235; vol. II, pp. 25-37

Rowland Alston, The Mind and Work of G. F. Watts, O.M., R.A., with introductory and special reference to the Watts Gallery, Compton, Guildford, Methuen & Co. (London, England, 1929), repr., no. 15

Charles Johnson, English Painting from the Seventh Century to the Present Day, George Bell and Sons, Ltd. (London, England, 1932), p. 235

Paintings and Drawings of the Pre-Raphaelites and their Circle, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1946), no. 98

Denys Sutton, "The Pursuit of Beauty", Apollo (June 1978), vol. CVII, no. 196, pp. 446-452, p. 450, fig. 10

Allen Staley, Victorian High Renaissance, exh. cat., Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis, MN, 1978), p. 83

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 133, repr. as no. 80

Francesca Mitchell, "Technical Study of the Paintings by George Frederic Watts in the Collection at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, July 1990), Unpublished, pp. 1-22 passim

Christopher Newall, The Grosvenor Gallery Exhibitions: Change and Continuity in the Victorian Art World, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1995), p 134

Andrew Wilton and Robert Upstone, The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, exh. cat., Flammarion (Paris, France and New York, NY, 1997), under cat. no. 78

Chikashi Kitazaki and Mina Oya, ed., Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art (Ueno, 2002), pp. 126-127, cat. #29, color repr.

Mark Bills and Barbara Bryant, G.F. Watts: Victorian Visionary, exh. cat., Yale University Press (U.S.) (New Haven/London, 2008), under no. 48, p. 198

Exhibition History

Unidentified Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, 1881, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 01/01/1881 - 12/31/1881

Special Collection of Works by George Frederick Watts, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 01/01/1885 - 12/31/1885

Loan Collection of Paintings by G. F. Watts, R.A., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 05/01/1885 - 10/31/1885

Unidentified Exhibition, Nottingham Art Gallery, 1887, Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham, 01/01/1887 - 12/31/1887

Unidentified Exhibition, Birmingham Art Gallery, 1887, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, 01/01/1887 - 12/31/1887

Unidentified Exhibition, Jahresausstellung, 1893, Jahresausstellung, Munich, 01/01/1893 - 12/31/1893

Winter Exhibition: The Works of G. F. Watts, New Gallery, London, 01/01/1896 - 12/31/1897

Winter Exhibition: Works by the Late George Frederick Watts, R.A., O.M. and the Late Frederick Sandys, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 10/01/1905 - 12/31/1905

Catalogue of Works of G. F. Watts, R. A., New Gallery, London, 01/01/1906 - 12/31/1907

Paintings and Drawings of the Pre-Raphaelites and their Circle, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/08/1946 - 06/01/1946

The Pre-Raphaelites: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/04/1980 - 07/15/1980

Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 09/14/2002 - 12/08/2002

For Students of Art and Lovers of Beauty: Highlights from the Collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/16/2004

32Q: 2130 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/02/2022 - 01/01/2050

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at