Grief of a Greek hero, a painting of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth was hammer down at £260,000

In our previous article on the sale of Sotheby’s London, we introduced a painting titled Lady Lilith by British painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This painting depicting the first wife of the biblical character Adam was hammered down at £560,000 (around HKD$5.67m). Another painting at the sale that also takes inspiration from mythical characters, Orpheus and Eurydice, was hammered down at £260,000 (around HKD$2.63m)

Lady Lilith on the left and Orpheus and Eurydice on the right.

The painting Orpheus and Eurydice by Victorian painter George Frederic Watts (1817-1904) depicts the Greek myth of Orpheus. Orpheus was the son of the Sun-god Apollo and the Muse Calliope, gifted with exceptional musical talent. In the well-known tale of the Golden Fleece, Orpheus played his lyre to save a crew of Greek heroes from the Sirens, which are dangerous creatures with beautiful voices that lure nearby sailors to shipwreck.

Orpheus and Eurydice by Louis Ducis (1775-1847) that depicts the happy time of the two lovers. 

With the aid of his lyre, Orpheus won the heart of a nymph called Eurydice and they deeply fell in love with each other. Sadly for Orpheus, good times never last. Eurydice was bitten by a viper and died at their wedding banquet. Bereaved Orpheus decided to go on a journey to the Underworld to regain Eurydice. Orpheus’s melancholic music moved the heart of Hades, the god of the Underworld, who permitted Orpheus to bring his beloved wife back to the Earth with one condition – not to look back until they leave the Underworld.

When Orpheus almost reached to the Earth, he was tempted to look back at Eurydice to ensure she had followed him all the way up. Right at that moment, Eurydice disappeared back into the darkness of the Underworld. The painting Orpheus and Eurydice captures this sorrowful moment of the couple.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Lady Lilit

Lot number: 7 
Size: 52 x 43cm
- Commissioned from the artist in 1867 by Alexander Shannan Stevenson and thence by direct descent to his grand-daughter Mrs Nancy Thompson 
- Sotheby’s London, 21 June 1988, lot 39. Purchased by Tomonori Iwakura
- A private collector purchased from Tomonori Iwakura
Estimate: £400,000 - 600,000
Hammer price: £560,000
Sold: £680,750 (with buyer’s premium)


George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), Orpheus and Eurydic

Lot number: 15
Size: 56 x 76cm
- Bequeathed to the artist’s adopted daughter Lilian Chapman and her husband Michael Chapman, thence by descent to their son Ronald Chapman
- Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1992
Estimate: £300,000 - 500,000
Hammer price: £260,000
Sold: £320,750 (with Buyer’s Premium)


Information of the sale
Auction house: Sotheby’s London
Sale: Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art
Sale number: L17132
Sale date: 13 July 2017