Luna (1885) by Evelyn De Morgan

Bound to earth by gravity and unable to escape to the heavens, the moon looms in the night sky. Not part of this world, nor separate from it the symbol of the moon was used by Spiritualist artist Evelyn De Morgan as a symbol for the human soul which is bound to the body in life, unable to escape to the heavens.  

In her painting Luna (1885) which stars in the forthcoming Moonscapes exhibition, Evelyn depicts a crescent moon with a semi-nude female figure draped over it in sumptuous blue robe. She is bound to the moon by loose ropes, as though able to break free at will. This state of semi-undress and semi-binding hints at the artist’s belief that upon death the soul, unlike the moon, is able to break free of its ties and will exist as a free, celestial entity.

In 1886, the painting was exhibited at the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours with this stanza from Shelley’s To the Moon, which emphasizes her use of the moon as a symbol of neither here nor there, pulled between two worlds.

Art thou pale from weariness

Of climbing heaven and gazing on the Earth

Wandering companionless

Among the stars that have a different birth

And ever changing, like a joyless eye

That finds no object worth its constancy?

The crescent moon is unfulfilled, working through the monthly cycle towards becoming a full moon. Luna reclines on its curved surface, the shape of her body becoming cyclical. In this, Evelyn De Morgan hints at the pseudo-science of the time which directly linked the female monthly menstrual cycle to the cycle of the moon, linking women to nature and to their natural place of childbearing and the home. By allowing Luna to easily escape from these bounds, Evelyn De Morgan rejects this placement of women in society.

Luna is suspended above a still, calm sea, her dominance over the pull of the tide hinted at in the placement. Water was also an important symbolist motif employed by artists such as G. F. Watts and Evelyn De Morgan to represent the soul. Moonbeams Dipping into the Sea (1900) advances the idea that the moon is the link between heaven and earth in Evelyn De Morgan’s oeuvre. In this painting the female moonbeams literally link the symbols of water and the moon, showing the progression of the soul from earthly, bodily bounds to the heavens.

This picture is on display at the Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village’s exhibition Moonscapes until 23rd June 2019