Untitled #03/12 (after Vouet, 1640; featuring Steven Webb)
80 x 75 cm / 32" x 30"
102 x 97 cm / 40" x 38"
Oil on board
Signed lower right
A Private Collection, Monona, WI, USA
Ross Watson recently viewed the Rape of Europa by Simeon Vouet in the exhibition Riotous Baroque at Zurich's Kunsthaus. He knew at once the theatrical masterpiece would be the most perfect reference for his painting featuring British actor Stevie Webb, who has enjoyed a very successful career since he played the lead role in Oliver at the London Palladium at age 10. The introduction of Webb to the scene appears to intensify and reinforce the qualities associated with the Baroque - dynamism, sensuality, extravagance and theatricality.
Watson's work faithfully follows Ovid's text in The Metamorphoses. Jupiter, who has fallen in love with Europa, daughter of the King of Tyre, has transformed himself into a bull and mingles with the cattle on the seashore where she is playing with her companions. Appreciating the animal's beauty, Europa approached him and covered his horns with flowers. The animal's docility encouraged her to sit on its back, at which moment Jupiter made his escape with her, plunging into the water.
Watson has chosen the moment just prior to Webb taking a bite of the ripe fruit, just as Vouet has chosen the moment just prior to the flight, when Europa has placed the flowers on the beast's head and is sitting on its back. Our focus though is drawn to the very centre of the composition, which is occupied by Webb, and Watson appears to mock an old metaphor which refers to indulgence or pleasure being harmful, particularly relating to human sexuality.
This superb master work is a fine example of a genre of Watson's art, which presents the contemporary figure mirroring the theme or mood of the classical work he has referenced. The note of sexual desire in the painting is provided by Webb's sensuous pose, and the bull, which Vouet has depicted with spittle dripping from its muzzle and a somewhat licentious expression.