Dimensions: H 934 mm, W 655 mm

Keywords: Evelyn De Morgan, Spiritualist, SOS, Morse Code, female figure, rock, refuge, thundering waves, sea serpents, forces of evil, the innocent, victims of war, First World War, supplication, rainbow

Dates: 1914 - 1916

Marks / Inscriptions: Signature, painted, lower right: "EDeM"


For S.O.S., De Morgan takes her title from the Morse Code cry for help that is telegraphed from those who are in imminent danger to those who they hope can rescue them. Such a title lends a dramatic sense of urgency to a work that shows a female figure standing upon a solitary rock of refuge as she is besieged by thundering waves and a myriad of sea serpents. The literal translation of the message (“save our souls”) also conveys a sense of what really is at stake when the forces of evil threaten to overcome the innocent and the good. With her hands outstretched and her eyes turned towards heaven, the figure seeks both physical and spiritual deliverance from her plight. Many interpretations of this allegorical figure are possible but all imply her innocence.

The artist may have meant this vulnerable figure in her spotless white robe to be emblematic of all the innocent victims of the war…from the beleaguered nations of Europe (such as Serbia or the neutral Belgium) to the inexperienced young soldiers. She may represent civilisation under siege by the forces of disorder. Another possibility is that the figure is emblematic of Britain’s own loss of innocence during the Great War. At the same time that innocent is being sacrificed, De Morgan holds out hope for eventual salvation by placing the biblical symbol of a rainbow in the painting. Just as after the Deluge a rainbow appeared to Noah and his family as a symbol of reassurance from a merciful God, this victim is also offered a sign of eventual deliverance.


Associated drawing in the collection:  Study of a female head for 'S.O.S.'   (D_EDM_0034)

Object Location: Loan - Wightwick Manor