John William Waterhouse's Diogenes displays one type of painting in Waterhouse's oeuvre — the historical painting. Waterhouse takes the viewer to a beautiful spring or summer day in ancient Greece: the sun is out, and the sky is clear. People gather outside for some sort of social event, the timing of which seems altogether idyllic. The three attractive women at the forefront of the painting certainly appear content, and Waterhouse contrasts them directly with Diogenes himself, on whom the painting's intentions are centered. Just about everything that could be different between the women and Diogenes appears to be so. The women are joyous, perhaps even to the point of silliness, and they wear bright and colorful gowns, whose brightness is emphasized even further by the sun's light. Diogenes, one of the founders of philosophical Cynicism, meanwhile stays in the shadows, with a text in hand, with a rather gloomy expression, and wearing fairly dark brown clothes. The women seem intrigued by this man who is by no means appreciating the favorable weather, and they have begun to approach him. How the interaction may have played out is left to the viewer, but Waterhouse leads us to contrast Diogenes and all he represents — cynicism and the weighty need for change — with the three women lightheartedly enjoying a social event on a beautiful day.

According to Wikipedia (see below), Diogenes "also enjoyed warming himself in the sun, which is what, according to tradition, he was engaged in doing when encountered by Alexander the Great." If true, it suggests a certain inauthenticity to the Waterhouse painting.

Questions

1. How sympathetically portrayed is Diogenes?

2. The note on Victorian Web states that the parasols are of a Japanese style, which was very popular during Waterhouse's time. What does this say about this portrayal of ancient Greece?

3. How does the painting compare to Waterhouse's works which use Greek and Roman mythology, such as the famous Hylas and the Nymphs?

4. Where is the source of light in the picture?

5. Does Waterhouse employ the same sort of naturalistic attention to detail as the early Pre-Raphaelites?

References

"Diogenes of Sinope." Wikipedia. Viewed 21 November 2006.


Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts J. W. Waterhouse paintings by J. W. Waterhouse/ Discussion questions for Waterhouse

Last modified 20 November 2006