Just look at this splendid drawing below. Does it look like a sketch?… But it was: a preliminary one for a much bigger work; and the masterly draughtsman was Otto Greiner (1869, Leipzig – 1916, Munich).
“Odysseus und die Sirenen” was a large-format painting, lost during World War II –probably destroyed by the British air raid the night of 4th December 1943. There exist many reproductions, of varied sizes, of which I show the most widespread and reliable: a colour lithograph, c. 1900, in the Bibliothèque des Arts décoratifs, Paris. As far as I can judge from this small scale copy, I do not like much the work, since I cannot associate it with Homer’s tale in any aspect. The ship looks ridiculous; and the Sirens… better don’t tell; you may appreciate their scarcely magical –somewhat German-brothel-like– looks on the picture (no wonder the mariners feel sceptical about them, and probably more interested in their own affairs –except Odysseus himself, who seems really distressed and craving). Some of the mariners are quite good, anyway; mainly the proud, handsome one standing at the bar, and also the one who is tying Odysseus from behind.
But then, in the preliminary study, the pair of rowers are formidable!, drawn with a soul inside their bodies (and as powerful as the bodies). So grim and mistrustful –and, to my eyes (as well as to the artist’s eyes), fairly sexy. It’s a masterwork indeed.
Sadly, I have been unable to find any data about it; no date, no actual dimensions, nothing…; so I’m afraid it may have been lost as well. (If some reader has any kind of reliable information, I would be very grateful to know it.)
During my research for this post, I have found two additional studies for the big painting. Both excellent as well, and luckily preserved to this day. The first shows the man at the left hand side, tying his master around the thighs. It’s drawn in pastel colours on paper and belongs to a private collector from Italy (it was shown at the exhibition “Ulisse. L’arte e il mito”, 2020). The second is done with crayons and opaque colours on paper, glued to cardboard, and is kept in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen – Neue Pinakothek München.
I attach a self-portrait of the artist, dated from 1913, and very fine as well. He was born in Leipzig in 1869 and died in Munich in 1916. (About him, I feel like adding that he was homosexual, and quite openly so, in case you have not figured it out from the works shown here.)