This picture depicts the mythological story of the daughters of Danaus, whose punishment in Hades was that they had to fill a vessel which had no bottom with water from the Styx; the story is told by Ovid in the Metamorphoses (IV, 462 sqs.).
The painting is signed and dated at the bottom right: M. J. Schmidt f. 1785. Like its companion piece Diana and Actaeon, it is a masterpiece of the classicistically harmonious style. It is very likely (in view of the figure of Styx at the bottom left) that Kremser-Schmidt was influenced by French painting, although the composition has a distinctly Italian character.
The Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum in Vienna holds an oil sketch for this painting (Inv. No. 6018). It was also reproduced in an etching by A. S. Herdel which has survived in a single print kept in the collection of Lambach monastery (Austria).
Restored: 1957, ZSV, Ljubljana.
Provenance: According to Strahl (1884) the paintings The Punishment of the Danaids and Diana and Actaeon were the property of a merchant, whose housekeeper had the nude bodies covered with mortar. After the merchant’s death they were sold as copper, by weight, to some haberdasher (according to Steska, 1898, his name was Johann), who wanted to use them as doors for his stove. Someone noticed the colour beneath the mortar and the painter Pavel Künl cleaned the pictures. Gaber (1931) recounts a story allegedly told by the almost blind Karl Strahl: the copper plates were bought by the restorer Göck to be used to repair the stove of the “Čitalnica” restaurant. He showed them to a guest, the painter Künl, who bought them. Künl sold the paintings to Strahl for 2,000 florins.– The paintings were in the Strahl collection in Stara Loka until 1930, when they were purchased for the Narodna galerija. K. Garzarolli-Thurnlack (1925) mentions that Strahl had acquired the paintings from the Teuerkauf collection in Graz.
Exhibitions: 1930, Ljubljana, no catalogue; 1957, Ljubljana, Nos. 28 and 27; 1960, Ljubljana, Nos. 88 and 89; 1961, Ljubljana, no number; 1983, Ljubljana, Nos. 78 and 79.
Lit.: Strahl 1884, p. 40 (cf. Cevc 1970, pp. 96–97); Steska 1898, pp. 579–580; Steska 1909, p. 57; Garzarolli-Thurnlackh 1925, pp. 135, 157; Steska 1927, p. 177; Polec 1930b, p. 174, Cat. No. 399, Fig. on p. 175 and p. 176, Cat. No. 402, Fig. on p. 175; Gaber 1931, p. 5; Gaber 1933, p. 3; Stele 1938, p. 16; Mikuž 1941, p. 173; Dworschak et al 1955, pp. 173, 277; Stele-Možina 1957a, p. 29, Cat. No. 28, Fig. 20 and p. 28, Cat. No. 27, Fig. 19; Stele-Možina 1957b, p. 29, Cat. No. 44, Fig. 25 and Cat. No. 43, Fig. 24; Mikuž 1957b, p. 6; Cevc 1960, p. 36, Cat. Nos. 89 and 88, Fig. 43; Cevc 1961, p. 32; Dobida 1961, p. 23, Fig. no number; Cevc 1966, p. 143; Pigler, II,1974, p. 66; Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, pp. 150–151, Cat. Nos. 78 and 79, Fig. 77 and 78; Cevc 1986, p. 127, Fig. 93 (The Punishment of the Danaids); Feuchtmüller 1989, pp. 136, 502, Fig. on p. 311 and Fig. 794 (Diana and Actaeon) and pp. 127, 502, Fig. on p. 310 and Fig. 768 (The Punishment of the Danaids); Menaše 1999, s.p.