By the Waters of Babylon we sat down and wept
Upon the poplar trees in the midst of her we hung our harps
For there were those holding us captive asked us for the words of a song,
And those mocking us - for rejoicing.
'Sing for us one of the songs of Zion'
How can we sing the songs of Jehovah
Upon foreign ground?
If I should forget you, O Jerusalem.
Let my right hand be forgetful.
Let my tongue stick to my palate,
If I were not to remember you.
Born in London in 1837 as Katherine Carr, Kate Gardiner Hastings received her artistic education at the Slade School in London. From 1871 - 1876 she studied with John Poynter and upon the completion of her studies, in 1877, she married Alfred Gardiner Hastings. For the next several years, she exhibited regularly, showing her work at the Dudley Gallery and the Walker Gallery.
In 1883, Kate Hastings exhibited By the Waters of Babylon they sat down and Wept at the Grosvenor Gallery in London. Obviously influenced by the work of Edwin Long and other British Orientalist artists, Hastings chose a Biblical theme for this large work. Psalm 137 is one of the best known of the Psalms. It is a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest in 586 B. C. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates River, its tributaries and the Chebar River which joins the Euphrates at Circesium. In its whole form, the psalm reflects the yearning for Jerusalem as well as hatred for the city's enemies. Rabinical sources attribute the poem to Jeremiah.
In Hastings' painting, the Israelites are represented by four women, all in various poses by the banks of a river (the waters of Babylon). The figure to the far left leans on a tree in obvious grief, and the one to the extreme right is heavily veiled. The central figure gazes out at the viewer with her hands behind her head as if she is about to remove her veil. Her gaze is direct and defiant. She will not forget Zion nor succumb to grief as her compatriots have. Behind the wall, the Babylonians, lead by their King and Queen, feast and make merry, attended to by a myriad of servants. The separation between the figures in the foreground and the shadowy figures that represent the oppressors of the Israelites is complete.