Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pearls for Kisses by Fred Appleyard

Pearls for Kisses

We have featured a number of sirens and mermaids on our Venus Observations blog, as the subject was very popular with Victorian artists.  In particular, the evil siren who lures men to their doom chimed well with a world where women, descendents of Eve, were seen as potentially evil manipulators of men who used sex to tempt men to disaster.  We will feature some more of these predatory sirens shortly.

Fred Appleyard takes a rather different tack in that here he shows us a mermaid with a merman rather than the more usual mermaid with a human.  Nevertheless, the implication is that the mermaid is leading the merman on, promising sexual pleasure in exchange for jewellery.  Actually, I suppose that pearls aren't technically jewellery but then neither is a gold chain.

We will refrain from commenting on the nature of such transactions between men and women throughout history, but will note that S 's interpretation of the painting (and she drew it to my attention) was that perhaps the mermaid owned the pearls and was promising the merman kisses in exchange for them.  What he would do with a string of pearls is obscure under this interpretation.  Probably go off and buy some fishy fun from another mermaid with them.

It is logical that in a universe that supports mermaids then there must be mermen but these are little mentioned in legend so this is a comparatively unusual depiction of one.  The question remains as to how they make merbabies and, indeed, what level of sexual enjoyment they can achieve together.  In some stories when mermaids come onto land they lose their tails and grow legs (and, presumably, everything else) so this would solve the problem neatly.  S's interpretation is that they wrap their tails around each other and rub their slimy scales together (mer-tribadism) until fishy sperm flows out into the sea from a slit in the merman's groin and is sucked in by a corresponding slit in the mermaid's, eventually producing fishy eggs.  The fact that these slits are never shown in paintings is down to Victorian prudery, she opines.

This is an unusual painting for Appleyard, who is best known for his landscapes, which often include families and, particularly children.  He was born in Middlesborough in 1874 and studied at the Scarborough School of Art.  he then moved to London and enrolled at the National Art Training School (now the Royal College of Art) before entering the Royal Academy Schools in 1897.  He won the Turner Gold medal and several other prizes and exhibited his own delicate brand of English Impressionism widely.

Fred Appleyard

He was a well known painter of murals and one of his paintings,  Spring Driving out Winter (1903), decorates the area over the door in the now very trendy Royal Academy restaurant.  In 1934 the Royal Academy wrote to Appleyard and asked if they could paint over his mural as it was rather dark.  No doubt this is why he didn't submit anything to the RA ever again!  The mural survived, however.

After the First World War he moved from London to the pretty village of Itchen Stoke in Hampshire, turning away from fame and fortune to paint for himself, despite it putting him in financial difficulties.  In fact, he had to sell his Turner Gold Medal in order to pay his electricity bill. He died in 1963 at the age of 88.


  1. Inspires all sorts of stories, doesn't it?

  2. You should write a mermaid story! I'm sure it would be excellent!