The Lament for Icarus (1898) by Herbert James Draper has been one of my favourite paintings since I was at school. The first time I saw it I was shocked by how absolutely beautiful it is, while also managing to be so desperately sad and hopeless.
Icarus lies dead upon the rocks, his magnificent wings open and useless. He is surrounded by water nymphs who gaze sorrowfully at his broken body. The reds and browns give the impression that he lies in shadow at dusk, and you can see the light of a setting sun on the cliff face behind. This lends to the overall feel of the painting; it is darker in the vicinity of death while the rest of the world carries on. This allows us to experience the tragedy more realistically. Strangely though, his wings are intact, not melted away as in the original tale. This lends to the notion that this man was indeed a winged creature which fell to its death, making it even more heartbreaking.
The wings are gorgeously painted, almost look real enough to touch and feel something soft and fluffy beneath your fingertips. The top nymph’s face is painted in such a way that you can almost hear her sigh as she looks sadly down at Icarus. The left hand of the lower nymph is positioned in a convincingly lifelike way as she leans on a rocky surface. It’s just so beautiful, so tragic and will remain one of my most favourite paintings of all time.
F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE