I took my harp to the party, but I didn’t know the outcome

Daniel R.A. Maclise was born 108 years ago in Cork, Ireland, on 25th January 1806. He went to the Cork School of Art and after graduation spent most of his life as a painter and illustrator working in England, after his arrival in July 1827. It was here that he entered the Royal Academy and the following year he was awarded one of the highest prizes open to students. He became good friends with fellow Irishman Thomas Moore. One of his most famous is entitled “The Origin of the Harp” (1842). The exhibition included Moore’s description:

“Still her bosom rose fair – still her cheek smiled the same,
While her sea beauties curl’d round the frame;
And her hair, shedding tear drops from all its bright rings,
Fell over her white arms to make the gold strings”.

It depicts, the tale of a sea siren, weeping for her spurned lover. As a consequence, she is turned into a harp by the heavens. Maclise’s eroticisation of the story drew some comment. The model for the work is still not confirmed but perhaps known to both Maclise and Moore. At the time of the exhibition, a reviewer found the “siren” to be ‘a trifle too full in her form, and too rosy in her cheek.’  Unfortunately, although this artwork belongs to the City of Manchester Art Gallery, it is no longer on display.

I cannot see any reason to remove its presence, but also wonder about the ‘harp’ interpretation of this piece. It makes me reminisce about the old Gracie Fields hit “I took my harp to the party but no one asked me to play”, which interpretively means, someone who is prepared to do something; but is not  given the opportunity to do so; which seems a bit like Maclise’s problem  with this painting where his sirens are no longer on display!

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