This mesmerising work is a vision of Acrasia kneeling with her victim in the garden of the Bower of Bliss. Like the sorceress Circe who turned Ulysses’s men into swine and whom Strudwick had painted two years before, Acrasia seduced men and transformed them into beasts. The defeated knight, who has succumbed to Acrasia’s charms and sipped her fatal potion, lies listlessly in her arms, at her mercy. His armour is scattered with rose blossoms, his shield rests futilely in the branches, and his sword lays idle upon the ground. Beyond the bower, a lake glistens in a golden sunset.
From amongst the branches of the apple trees, Acrasia’s handmaidens sing a haunting melody along to the melodious chords of their lutes and harps. Music became the most important metaphor of the Aesthetic Movement, echoing the direct way in which the design and color of paintings struck the viewer’s emotions and senses. Like Whistler, Rossetti and Burne-Jones, Strudwick alludes to music in his paintings throughout his career.