Pegasus and Muse – Ernst Fuchs

Today’s post, I unapologetically release the full force of my Greek myth geekdom. This painting has so much going on, that I really want to give you all the full breakdown of what is going on, to do the piece of work justice.

Ernst Fuchs was a man of many talents, along side painting his repertoire reached out to poetry, sculpture, architect, stage design. Draftsman, printmaker, singer and was one of the founders of the Vienna school of fantastic realism. In 1972 he acquired the crumbling Otto Wagner villa and restored it, and it is now the Ernst Fuchs museum.

Born in Austria in 1930, to a Jewish father and a Christian mother, this is quite an important fact about Fuchs, as his mother took the chance to have him baptised which saved him from an extermination camp during World War II, and saw him put in to a transition camp for children of mixed racial origin. Had it not have been for this turn of events the world would have been bereft of this unique and inventive talent.

Fuchs’ still is fantastical surrealism, and he was good friends with artists like Dali, although they didn’t discuss art when they met. Fuchs was noted to say that his paintings where created in a trance like state, and his work were the kind of images that other people saw in dreams or hallucinations.

Pegasus and Muse certainly has a dream like quality to it. His technique almost lending itself to a sculpture rather than a painting with its bronzed hues.

I am pretty sure that most of you, like me when you think of Pegasus do not think of it as Fuchs has portrayed. You probably think of it, in the more iconic state of the brilliant white winged steed like this:-

Pegasus I – Heather Theurer.

To me, there is a very specific reason that Fuchs has depicted this well known mythological creature in this way and to understand that I think I need to tell you about how Pegasus came about.

Medusa, was once, a beautiful young women who was devoted to the priestess Athena. In her devotion, she took a vow of celibacy. Medusa had beautiful curls of blonde hair and a stunningly attractive face with eyes that sparkled, and this attracted the affections of Poseidon. Poseidon wooed (Oh yes I said wooed) Medusa, and forgetting her vow of celibacy, fell head over heels for Poseidon, and they married. Well, Athena was not best pleased about this and took it upon herself to punish Medusa in the most terrible way. Each blonde curl on Medusa’s head was turned in to a snake, and the pretty face became haggard and ugly, her skin taking on a greenish hue and her once fresh and loving eyes, turned to blood shot red and whom ever she looked upon would turn to stone. On seeing what she had become, Medusa ran away, her outward appearance making her an outcast. She eventually ended up in Africa, where she would meet her end by the sword of Perseus, but I’ll save that story for another time.

I do think, Medusa gets a bit of a bum rap, as really, all we remember her for is this monstrous Gorgon that she became, and no doubt you are wondering why I brought her up…well, Medusa and Poseidon where the parents of Pegasus.

The happy couple looked like this:-

Poseidon mosaic

Medusa – Caravaggio

Ok, maybe not quite so happy couple here, but you’ll understand why I show these images eventually, there is method in my madness.

On the other side of the god world, Zeus had nine beautiful daughters called The Muses. Their mother was Mnemosyne, who was the personification of memory, and each muse had a certain characteristic, these where displayed through art as such:-

Calliope – protector over ancient poetry and would be seen with a writing tablet.

Clio – protector of history and would be seen with scrolls

Erato – protector of lyric poetry and would be seen with a cithara

Euterpe – protector of song and elegiac poetry and would be seen with a flute

Melpomene protector of tragedy and would be seen with a tragic mask

Polyhymnia – protector of hymns and would be seen with a veil

Terpsichore – protector of dance and would be seen with a lyre

Thalia – protector of comedy and would be seen with a comic mask

Urania – protector of astronomy and would be seen with a globe and compass

The muses were a friend to Pegasus, and before Medusa’s head was cut off and Pegasus was tamed by Bellerophon, he created the Hippocrene fountain on Mt. Helicon. According to myth, where ever Pegasus’s hooves touch the earth it would create a spring, and the Hippocrene was created to prevent the mountain swelling with the rapture of song from the muses.

With all this information tumbling around your head now, let’s go back and talk about the picture at hand. Let’s talk about the muse at Pegasus shoulder first. She’s very hard to identify as to with one she is as she is just a face, with long flowing almost snake like hair. Due to the rest of my interpretation of this painting I am going to take an educated guess that it is Clio.

Pegasus looks more like a centaur, not our usual white steed, but a bronzed Adonis of a horse, with the armoured torso of a warrior. His wings look heavy and muscular to afford the ability to lift such a load. His eyes are closed as the muse looks ahead for him, nestled close to his temple and he gallops through a dream like background.

What I see in this is Pegasus’s history through the eyes of Clio. Pegasus is transformed to the image of his father Poseidon, taking in the metallic hues of the sea horses that drove Poseidon’s chariot, and his fathers muscular torso showing itself. Certainly if you look at the mosaic above you can see a muscular bearded warrior. Clio has taken on the attributes of Medusa, the face, soft as Medusa was before betraying Athena, and her long flowing locks while almost serpentine have yet to change under her betrayal.

This lends itself so nicely to the symbolism which surrealist love. The past driving the present.

What do you see when you look at this painting? Why not tell me in the comments?

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