Helen of Troy, painting by Howard David Johnson

Throughout history Helen of Troy has been expressed through stories, poems, and different artworks. Howard David Johnson is an artist who creates “prismacolor” paintings using prism colored pencils. His work started in 1993 and has continued to 2005. Throughout his career, Johnson has created many “realistic paintings and photo realistic drawings of legendary beautiful women of Classical, (Greek and Roman) Egyptian, and Middle Eastern legend and history,” (Johnson). One of his many paintings is Helen of Troy. Johnson portrayed Helen as young and beautiful because she was known as the most beautiful woman throughout the land. This painting shows Helen on a balcony in Troy, walking away from the sea as her husband Menelaus and his fleet arrive on the shores of Troy to start the Trojan War. The reason for Menelaus coming to Troy was to get Helen back. Paris of Troy came to Sparta and when he realized how beautiful Helen was he had to have her for himself. When Paris left for Troy he took Helen with him. Soon after Menelaus realized Paris took Helen, he was bound to get her back. This is why many people believe that Helen started the Trojan War and was the face that launched a thousand ships.

Many paintings portray Helen as a young beautiful woman, but not all show her expression after seeing her husband arrive on the shores of Troy. This painting can have different meanings than that of what the artists attempt was because Helen is by herself. One way to perceive the painting is that Helen is awaiting the arrival of her husband, Menelaus, because she wants to go home. It could be that Paris did kidnap Helen and she never wanted to leave Sparta in the first place. The other option is that Helen saw Menelaus approaching the shores of Troy and is worried about what is going to happen. She knows that Menelaus will do anything to get her back and fears for Troy. The two different analysis of this painting make it hard to distinguish which one the artist, Johnson, wanted to express.

I think the main idea that Johnson wanted to get across was how Helen felt. With different versions of the story the attention was taken off of Helen. This painting brings the focus back on Helen and her emotions while drawing attention to what she might have felt. Johnson successfully made Helen’s facial expressions visible. Helen appears lonesome, yet worried. After seeing her husbands fleet of ships, Helen simply turns and walks down the stairs, as though she doesn’t care. She is not excited that her husband is arriving, nor is she running to warn Paris or the rest of Troy. Although most of the painting is dim, the upper left corner has a burst of light. This part of the painting shows the sun setting as the fleet of Menelaus approaches Troy. This is the strongest part of the painting because it seems as though Helen has been mesmerized from the sight of her husband and his fleet. The rocky, mountainous terrain behind Helen represents the rough battle that lies ahead for Menelaus in order to get Helen back. However, next to Helen is the beautiful architectural designs and flowers of Troy. It looks as though everything is in its place, except for Helen. Helen is between the shores of Troy where her husband is about to arrive, and beautiful Troy.

Throughout time Helen is seen as being stuck in the middle. No one ever knew Helen’s true feelings, but this painting gives an idea through her expressions and body language. Helen’s location in the painting and how she carries herself shows her emotion and position about where she is at. Helen doesn’t know what to do anymore and is just in a daze because she has been through so much and just wants it to be over. With Menelaus and his fleet arriving on the shores of Troy, Helen knows that the Trojan War is about to begin because Paris will not give her up without a fight because of her beauty. With two men fighting for Helen the focus should have stayed on her, but it didn’t. Once Menelaus arrived at Troy, he was no longer interested in Helen as much as he was in Troy.

Although the focus was taken off of Helen this painting brings it all back to her because she is by herself. This painting portrays Helen of Troy as a young beautiful woman who has seen her husband, Menelaus and his fleet, arrive on the shores of Troy. Johnson shows Helen by herself and leaves what Helen is thinking completely up to the viewer. With different versions of the story it is difficult to know what Helen was thinking. Whether she was kidnapped or willing to go to Troy with Paris is questionable. Either way Helen is associated with the start of the Trojan War. Helen was the most beautiful woman throughout the land. Her husband, Menelaus was not going to lose her without a fight, hence the Trojan War. This painting brings the focus back to Helen being stuck in the middle. Helen is calm and peaceful, while looking lonesome and worried. Johnson expresses the importance of Helen and shows what Helen’s emotions might have been. No one will ever know for sure what was going through Helen’s mind, but this painting may be analyzed two different ways. It just depends on how the painting is perceived by each individual.



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Last updated October 23, 2005