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image icon 'Hera, wife of Zeus', 1894

'Hera, wife of Zeus', 1894
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Description

This is a watercolour painting on paper, measuring 53.3 cm x 65.2 cm, by H P Gill (1855-1916), dated 1894. A young woman with short golden hair is posing naked as Hera, one of the gods from ancient Greece. She is seated side-on on a bench that is draped with a soft grey-coloured cloth. A pair of golden sandals lie near her feet on a richly decorated carpet. Behind the figure is a light-coloured blank wall - to the left is an olive green drape that has been embroidered with two peacock motifs. Other bird motifs can be seen in the border of the carpet. The circular watercolour is set in a gold painted wooden frame that contains elaborately carved designs of peacocks.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an example of art influenced by the Aesthetic Movement of late-19th-century Britain; the Aesthetic Movement celebrated the idea of beauty in art and art for art's sake; among the numerous subjects popular with artists were those from the remote past, including the medieval age and the classical world of ancient Greece
  • depicts one of the most significant and interesting gods from Greek mythology; Hera was both sister and wife of the god Zeus; according to legend she was very beautiful and was one of the contestants in the Judgement of Paris, an event that led to the Trojan War (a mythological war that is supposed to have taken place in the 13th or 12th century BC); Hera had a reputation for being petty and vindictive and often plotted against Zeus (one of her obsessions being to make his life as difficult as possible); ironically, she was also the goddess of marriage and was a protector of married women
  • contains two symbols that are specifically associated with Hera - her golden sandals and the peacock (other symbols were the cow and the cuckoo); in one dispute with Zeus, which resulted in the killing of the giant Arges (one of the first generation of Cyclopses or one-eyed giants, Arges had 100 eyes that never closed in sleep), Hera took Arges's eyes and set them in the tail of her favourite bird, the peacock; Hera's chariot was drawn by peacocks
  • is a finely crafted work by Harry P Gill (1855-1916), who as an artist, teacher and curator made a very significant contribution to South Australian art - Gill trained in England at the South Kensington School of Design and had a dual role in Adelaide as Head of its School of Design (from 1892) and Honorary Gallery Curator at the Art Gallery of South Australia, in which role he purchased key Australian and European works for the collection; from 1891 he was highly influential in the arts in Adelaide and played a key role in that city's arts and crafts movement
  • illustrates Gill's competence in handling the watercolour medium, particularly in achieving subtle shading effects on the body and in the folds and textures of the drapery
  • is a painting that retains its original artist designed and made frame; towards the end of the 19th century the virtues of making art and design objects by hand (as opposed to made by machine) were enthusiastically promoted within Australian art and design schools; training courses (similar to those taught by Gill) began to include the decoration of objects (including woodcarving), as well as the traditional media of painting and drawing; the combination of watercolour painting, frame-making and carving in 'Hera' reflects this new 'multimedia' or 'combined-skills' approach to art-making
  • references the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement within Australia - this movement developed in Britain during the second half of the 19th century, largely as a reaction by many British artists and theorists to what they regarded as the deplorable state of British design and shoddy manufacture (particularly as demonstrated by many of the exhibits at the 'Great Exhibition of All Nations' at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851); the root cause of the poor design and manufacture was seen as being mechanised mass production, with its associated evil of substandard conditions for workers; some theorists, particularly William Morris (1834-96) and John Ruskin (1819-1900), advocated a return to the pre-industrial eras of handcrafting as a means of restoring standards of good design and beauty; response to this movement in Australia was largely artistic and was concerned more with stylistic and decorative elements and the promotion of individually designed, handmade objects.