Cassandra is one of the most striking of Sandys' portraits of legendary female figures. The most beautiful daughter of King Priam of Troy, Cassandra caught the notice of Apollo, who gave her the gift of prophesy. However, when the god came to her at night, she rejected him and he ordered that her prophesies should not be believed. Here Cassandra is both salient and alone, constrained by her inability to persuade her peers, afflicted by visions of terrors that are to come. The irony of her tale makes it more potent; it is her son Paris whose love for Helen exacerbates division between Troy and Greece, and leads to the destruction of Troy.
The strength of Sandys' image is enhanced by its compositional format; we are confined by its peripheries, blind to the wider surround, as the Trojans were oblivious to Cassandra's prophecies. Cassandra's hair and garments billow out behind her, as if she animated by a seeming centrifugal force of heightened consciousness, in contrast to the still equanimity of the city beyond.
Sandys had treated the subject before, in 1863-4 (see Elzea, op.cit., Woodbridge, 2001, cat. 2.A.63, p. 174). This version, oil on panel, is a more abrasive image depicting a dark-haired Cassandra, her mouth wide open as if she is screaming, a coastal landscape beyond. Betty Elzea explains that for this earlier painting Sandys used the gypsy Keomi as a model, whereas for the present drawing he used one of his daughters (op cit, p. 283).
In a letter to his friend, the collector Graham Robertson, Sandys commented of Cassandra: 'I do not hesitate to to say it is the best thing I have ever done'. As a draughtsman, Sandys has been compared to Dürer and Van Eyck. His portraits - both commissions and imaginative subjects - are executed with a precision and fineness of touch that is unrivalled. His portfolios inspired a eulogy in the form of Percy Bate's commemorative piece for the 1905 Studio magazine. He wrote of Sandys' set of ideal heads (including Cassandra, Proud Masie and Lethe):
'All through the long series of them we cannot but recognise the power with which the artist deals subtly with the transitory and evanescent expressions of lovely faces - the perfect draughtsmanship of eyes and lips, the unfaltering surety and vigour of the touch, the delicate treatment of the hair, so lovingly lingered over, so beautifully drawn in its curves and waves, and withal so finely treated as a mass, despite the absolute rendering of every strand and coil'.
Love's shadow, an ideal head by Sandys which compares to the famous Proud Maisie, sold at Christie's, London, The Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Drawings, 20 February 2003, £133,150.