The Cyclops
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The Cyclops by Odilon Redon looks lovesick.

The giant one-eyed creature stares into your soul as if he’s screaming, “Please, please love me dear viewer!” Turns out, symbolist Odilon Redon successfully captured a look of longing out of this monster.

According to Greek Mythology, the Cyclops Polyphemus fell madly in love with Galateia, one of the fifty Nereids, or goddesses of the sea. From behind his boulder, Polyphemus attempts to woo Galateia with soft melodies and milk and cheese. Dude knows a way to a woman’s heart. But poor Polyhemus didn’t stand a chance because the nymphs spurred his advances and plucked the handsome Sicilian young man named Akis to swoop in and take Galateia for himself. Polyhemus in a fit of rage, crushed Akis with a boulder. Don’t mess with monsters man.

Odilon Redon was determine to paint the imaginary in all of his paintings and The Cyclops is no exception. Redon captured our heartbroken monster in the moment he sees Galateia for the first time. But his giant eye stares blaringly into the viewer’s soul. By exaggerating the size of the cyclop’s eye, Redon implies that the eye, full of wonder, is a reflection of a human soul.

Symbolism, the precursor to it’s brother, Surrealism, allowed artists like Redon to rebel against Naturalism which was all the rage in the late 1800s. Symbolist painters believed art should reflect an emotion and not mimic the natural world. Symbolists used Greek Mythology and mainly woman subjects (surprise!) to recall the most important themes in their art: love, fear, death, sexy time, and unreciprocated affection.

Love? Check. Death? You betcha. Sexual awakening? Yep. Unreciprocated affection with a dash of stalker-ish tendencies? That’s right. Is the Cyclop’s eye staring straight into your soul making you feel things you normally hide? Good. Congratulations, you have been successfully had by a symbolist painting. Welcome to the club, my friend.




  1. “Le Cyclope, c. 1914.” Kroller Mueller. Accessed November, 2018.
  2. Myers, Nicole. “Symbolism.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art website. August, 2007. Accessed November, 2018.
  3. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Galatea.” Encyclopedia Britannica. April, 2017. Accessed November, 2018.
  4. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Polyphemus.” Encyclopedia Britannica. May, 2018. Accessed November, 2018.
  5. The Annotated Mona Lisa section on Symbolism from “The Nineteenth Century: Birth of the ‘Isms’” p.124-125

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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Cyclops (Redon)

The Cyclops (Le Cyclope in French) is a painting by Odilon Redon that depicts the myth of the love of Polyphemus for the naiad Galatea. It was painted in oils on board, then mounted on wood, and is now in the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands. The painting has been variously dated between 1898 and 1914.

The painting

Galatea is shown asleep on the lower right, her naked body blending into the flowery hill slope. In the upper half of the painting, the head and shoulders of Polyphemus tower above a mountain ridge as he turns his one eye in the naiad’s direction. It appears Polyphemus has hidden himself from the nymph behind the rocky terrain, too shy to directly confront her "helpless" form. Although the name given the painting refers to the figure of Classical myth, the subject may also carry overtones of the one-eyed giants that populate the folklore of the Aquitaine region where Redon grew up.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Cyclops (Redon).