Orpheus, the poet and musician of Greek legends, could charm gods, humans and animals with his singing. Inconsolable after the death of his wife Eurydice, he persuaded the gods of the Underworld to give her up, but they set one condition: he must not look at her before they left the Underworld. Orpheus could not resist Eurydice's appeal and turned round, only to see her disappear forever. The huge rock behind him no doubt hides the way to the Underworld.
By evoking the myth of the poet, whom his art led into mysteries usually forbidden to humans, Séon reduced the elements of his composition to a minimum, privileging idea over form. His landscape is desolate, bare of all vegetation, far removed from the colourful countryside of the island of Bréhat which inspired him. Whereas the pink-tinged setting is painted in flat areas of colour, the prostrate figure of the hero is the only part of the composition rendered with modelling, particularly the numerous folds of the blue cloth draped over Orpheus' legs.