OIL PAINTING: Pygmalion and Galatea, 1886
Normand's portrayal of the Pygmalion story took the precaution of recreating a suitable pseudo-archeological classical setting in the manner of Alma-Tadema. Nevertheless, his lifelike treatment of the nude, and the tangible warmth of her flesh made it somewhat risque and potentially open to criticism, exhibited so close to John Callcott Horsley's infamous attack on the probity of the nude as subject. Pygmalion gazes up awe-struck as he discovers Galatea coming to life in his studio. The upper half of her body is already flesh, as her rosy lips, nipples and fingers indicate, while the transformation into life is incomplete below her waist, and her feet are still cold marble. Interestingly, Normand has based Galatea on the famous Venus de Milo, but, necessarily, has reconstituted it to its complete state by adding arms. This was no mere witticism, as there was considerable contemporary discussion of the statue's date and complete state, and Normand has considered carefully and convincingly the likely position of the arms. The Venus de Milo was widely available at the time as a plaster statuette but Normand would have been able to see the original in the Louvre during his honeymoon in Paris in 1884. Normand has also copied the sculpture's exaggeratedly elongated physical proportions, the original standing over six feet in height. Galatea's blond hair and pale complexion are clearly not Mediterranean, as logically they should be, and Normand may have mirrored unwholesome contemporary beliefs about the perfection of this racial type. However, Galatea also bears some slight facial resemblance to Normand's wife, Henrietta Rae (1858-1928), also a painter of nudes, and this picture may therefore be a tribute to her, casting her as both Venus and Galatea.