… like a withered lily, on the land
His slender frame and pallid aspect lay,
As fair a thing as e’er was form’d of clay
… walking out upon the beach, below
The cliff, towards sunset, on that day she found
Insensible – not dead but nearly so, –
Don Juan, almost famish’d, and half-drown’d.
—Byron, Don Juan, canto II (1819)
So meet Byron’s great lovers Don Juan and the beautiful Haidée, who, aided by her maid Zoe, rescues the shipwrecked castaway. The two inevitably fall in love, only to be thwarted by Haidée’s father, the pirate Lambro. With her lover expelled from their idyllic island, Haidée dies, broken-hearted.
The experience of illustrating The Poetical Works of Lord Byron (which was published by Edward Moxon in 1870) inspired Ford Madox Brown to paint this luminous work. Two additional versions in oil are now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, and the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. Most of Brown’s imagery was drawn from English life and literature, and his few representations of foreign subjects were largely inspired by the writings of Lord Byron.
Brown applied a multitude of minute strokes of watercolour and gouache to create the brilliant shades of the sky and sea, illuminated by the setting sun, which casts into shadow the rich colours of the exotic garments, the seaweed-strewn shoreline and the eroded cliffs. Although the more richly clad figure is sometimes thought to be Haidée, in the text it is Haidée who tenderly awakens Don Juan. Here Zoe’s withdrawn stance is counterposed by her mistress’s urgent gestures. The horizontal line of Haidée’s flowing veil and raised arm draws attention to Don Juan’s naked form, her rosy hand contrasting with his deathly pale skin.
Text by Alisa Bunbury from Prints and Drawings in the International Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 90.