Talbot Hughes was the son of still-life artist William Hughes and the brother of landscape painter H. Hughes-Stanton. Hughes lived in London and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1871 to 1903 with subjects ranging from genre paintings, to historical subjects, to allegorical works which depict the trials of romantic love such as Temptation
(1899), The Road to Love
(1900) and Echo
. As told in Book II of Ovid's Metamorphoses
, the beautiful mountain nymph Echo spoke back the last words she heard. In the present work, Hughes depicts Echo with her hand to ear, eyes focused, perhaps hoping to catch a sweet something from Narcissus, his namesake blooms surrounding her a sad reminder of her unrequited love. The Artist's
critic considered Hughes's Echo "a Botticelli like figure of much grace and beauty" while another applauded the artists' overall "dexterity of hand, the extraordinary felicity with which he renders... different surfaces of stuffs" (The Artist
, p. 56; Dixon, p. 2). The artist's masterful handling of paint is particularly evident in Echo's costume with its complicated embroideries of stylized hearts and narcissuses.
Such detail was likely informed by the artist's impressive collection of English historical costumes dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries which were sold to Harrod's and then donated by them to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, significantly expanding their textile collection. Hughes was also a connoisseur of portrait miniatures and over 400 examples were acquired by the Rosenbach Company of New York and Philadelphia in the 1920s. This overall interest in design suggests that he very likely designed the work's period frame, the title carved at lower center, and the stylized floral motif echoing the themes of the painting.