The elder brother of the better-known Wilfred von Glehn (1870-1951), Oswald von Glehn was born in Germany but came to England where he is said to have studied briefly under Legros. This was presumably at the Slade, where Legros was appointed Professor of Fine Art in 1876, when von Glehn was eighteen. He exhibited only two pictures at the Royal Academy, the present one and another classical subject, Oenone, in 1880. Later he seems to have turned to landscape; according to the catalogue of the exhibition of Forbes Collection pictures held at Minnesota in 1974 (loc. cit.), 'two landscapes of the Brighton coast were shown in London in 1881. His last recorded composition to be exhibited in London appeared in 1896 and was entitled Autumn Day on the Thames. The date of his death does not seem to be known.
Boreas and Orithyia was exhibited at the R.A. with the following quotation from Plato's Phaedrus in the catalogue:
Phaedrus. Tell me, Socrates, do you believe this tale to be true?
Socrates. It would not be strange if I disbelieved it, as the clever men do. I might then show my cleverness by saying that a gust of Boreas blew her down from the rocks above while she was at play, and that having been killed in that manner she was reported to have been carried off by Boreas...
Boreas, the North Wind, often seen by poets as the archetype of rudeness, fell in love with the nymph Orithyia, but his advances met with little success. Growing weary of his endeavours, he eventually seized her and carried her off, as seen in the picture. Their children were Zetes and Calais, winged warriors who accompanied Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece and distinguished themselves in an encounter with the monstrous Harpies. According to Pausanius, the legend is based on history, Boreas being a King of Thrace who carried off and married Orithyia, the daughter of Erechtheus.
The picture was described by the Art Journal as 'a very beautiful version of the myth', and by The Times as 'a creditable piece of young man's work of a kind of which ... our exhibitions show hardly anything.' It commended the 'well-drawn figures', and thought it recognised 'Venetian inspiration'. The picture recalls the work of the 'Poetry without Grammar School', artists such as Walter Crane, Robert Bateman and Alfred Sacheverell Coke who were influenced by Burne-Jones and exhibited at the Dudley Gallery in the 1860s and '70s. The figure of Boreas is surely indebted to Blake.