Everything about this picture is weird. Two naked girls float motionless above an icy blue landscape, their golden hair spread out around them. The snowy mountains are realistic but also mysterious. The paint seems to radiate light, the result of Segantini's Divisionist technique of applying a mosaic of patches of thick paint. The whole thing has the frightening but inexplicable clarity of a dream. The suspended figures suggest some kind of Dante-esque punishment and indeed the picture shows a kind of purgatorial state. But its source is a Buddhist poem translated by Luigi Illica, one of Puccini's librettists. It seems the women are being punished for neglecting their role as mothers, perhaps pursuing sexual gratification instead of caring for their children. This is a deeply disturbing picture and visitors are drawn to it. We have just rehung it with pictures by Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Holman Hunt in the Walker's refurbished High Victorian Gallery.
Julian Treuherz is Keeper of Art Galleries, National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside
Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, Liverpool (051-207 0001)