The Mermaid’s Cave

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This woodblock print was created by J. Lemmen (originally Georges Lemmen) on the fourth of May 1893 and published on page 171 of The Savoy’s second volume in 1896. Known primarily as a Belgian Neo-Impressionist and Pointillist artist, Lemmen was also part of the avant-garde group Les XX. It was within this group that he met and befriended famous Pointillist Georges Seurat. Educated at Sint-Joost-ten-Node Academy, Lemmen was a man of words as well as a visual artist, working as a journalist, draftsman, painter, and printmaker throughout his career. In The Mermaid’s Cave, stark black and white contrasts and dynamic, expressive line work create a tumultuous setting for the mermaid to inhabit. The mermaid, meanwhile, reclines as if on a chaise lounge with a placid expression on her face. The mermaid’s suggestive pose combined with the chaotic backdrop evokes Victorian anxieties about the New Woman’s emerging sense of sexual freedom and mobility. As Suzanne Fagence Cooper notes in The Liquefaction of Desire: Music, Water and Femininity in Victorian Aestheticism, the “image of the mermaid was pervasive in Victorian culture, symbolising fear of feminine sexuality, and dramatising the ‘otherness’ of women” (Cooper 2009). The setting combined with the light streaming through the cave’s entrance also codes this model of femininity as a hidden one revealed in a voyeuristic encounter.

Eli Burley

Works Cited and Consulted:

Cooper, Suzanne Fagence. “The Liquefaction of Desire: Music, Water and Femininity in Victorian Aestheticism.” Women: A Cultural Review, vol. 20, no. 2, Aug. 2009, pp. 186–201. (Crossref), doi:10.1080/09574040903000845.

Georges Lemmen | Artnet. Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.

Lemmen, J. – Yellow Nineties Personography. Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.

“Les XX.” Google My Maps, Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.

Savoyv2_lemmen_mermaid – Yellow Nineties 2.0. Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.