OIL PAINTING: The Gates of Dawn, 1900
This resplendent image of Aurora opening the gilded portals of dawn, adorned with emblems of Apollo and the planets, to proclaim a new century, is an ambitious fusion of natural observation with Symbolist suggestiveness. Draper himself identified the figure as Aurora or Eos, and his depiction of her certainly accords with Homer's description of dawn as "rosy fingered", as well as with the following line from Ovid's Metamorphoses: "far in the crimsoning east wakeful Dawn threw wide the shining doors of her rosefilled chambers." The seductive allure of Aurora is achieved by a radiant combination of crimson, purple and golden hues, together with the heavy spread of drapes and roses at her feet, features reminiscent of Leighton's Helios and Rhodos, the sensation of the Academy back in 1869. The roses and bindweed flowers that adorn the goddess's hair have been interpreted as symbols of Aurora's obsessive and inexorable passion for young men; at the same time these features connect her with the cycle of death and rebirth which forms the presiding theme of the painting. Draper presents Aurora as a decidedly modern woman with lithe limbs and triumphant expression, while the cloths falling around her limbs suggest the sensual ambience of a boudoir or bathroom. The model who posed for Dawn was Florence Bird, a professional whose relaxed and confident posture dominates the composition. The use of the female body to embody both natural forces and ideas of progressive womanhood is a marked characteristic of the late-nineteenth- century nude and allowed for a variety of interpretations. Thus, while Aurora can be seen as a magnificent restatement of the "eternal feminine" in nature, she also stands as a modern icon of female autonomy.