Skip to main content

The Sphynx and The Chimera

Musée d'Orsay, Paris (France) © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Gérard Blot

Louis Welden Hawkins

(1849 - 1910)

Date : 1906 | Medium : Oil on canvas

In this 1906 work, 'The Sphynx and The Chimera', the painter Louis Welden Hawkins created a symbolic reinterpretation of the hybrid monster. He drew his references from ancient mythology and brought two composite animals together into one. According to Greek legend, the sphinx was a being with the head of a woman, the body of a lion and the tail of a dragon, while according to myth, the chimera was an animal with three heads, that of a lion, a goat and a snake. But Hawkins' paintings were also inspired by mediaeval fantasy, as this hybrid monster seems to be as one with the stone column against which it is leaning; this is reminiscent of the gargoyles and chimeras of Gothic cathedrals. Paradoxically, the light which encircles the female face gives this infernal, disquieting monster a divine dimension. Between damnation and redemption, ancient mythology and Gothic fantasy, Symbolist art places great emphasis on polymorphic beings and monsters. At a time when rational science and technological progress prevailed, they expressed the sombre side of the psyche and the taste for the supernatural, the bizarre and the irrational.

And did you know? The strige, this hybrid figure of a winged devil striking a melancholy pose and leaning against the gallery wall of Notre Dame de Paris, is also found in ancient myths. In Greek, the work strige means ‘bird of the night’ and designates a half-woman, half-bird demon. From ancient beliefs to mediaeval fantasy, from the Romantic taste for the occult to the Symbolist appetite for mystery, the Cathedral with its monsters was the source of vivid and constantly evolving fantasies inspired by the past which led to new interpretations, thereby exorcising the hopes and fears of each age.


Inscription Newsletter