Signed Herbert Hampton Sc
Bronze with brown and green patination
Height: 30 5/16'' (77 cm)
Conceived and cast circa 1895
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter from the Greek city of Thespiae in the region of Boeotia. He was exceptionally handsome, thanks to his divine descent – the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope.
The most famous version of the myth can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. According to Ovid, nymph Echo fell in love with Narcissus and started following him. The young man however refused her harshly, causing Echo to retreat to lonely caves and valleys, until only the sound of her voice – an echo – remained. In return, Nemesis, the god of revenge, wishing to avenge Echo’s sorrowful death, attracted Narcissus to a pond. The young man caught his reflection in the water and fell desperately in love with his own image. Narcissus was unable to ever leave his image behind, eventually dying by the side of the pond. His body was turned into a flower, preserving his beauty forever.
In this impressive bronze, Hampton depicts the moment in which Narcissus catches a glimpse of his own self as he steps carefully on two stones above the surface of the water. In western art, painters and sculptors usually represented the figure as sitting next to a pond, intent at gazing at his own reflection in the water. In this light, Hampton’s vertical composition is rather distinctive.
The piece was probably devised to decorate the top of a fountain, so that the standing figure would look into the water beneath his feet. This perhaps inspired the sculptor Henri-Léon Gréber (1856-1941), whose patinated plaster on the same subject (1909, Musée Departmental de l’Oise in France), originally devised for a fountain, shows a strikingly similar composition.