Psamathe was one of the Nereids, the female guardian deities of the sea shore - or a nymph of the sands as the artist called her. The enigmatic back view and the apparently dreamy stare far out to sea make this more than just an academic female nude or a bather on the beach. The figure's profile, so carefully emphasised by the artist, disturbed contemporary critics with its exuberance and lack of classical severity. Psamathe was the personification of the breaking wave, and Leighton used the white drapery to associate the figure with the crashing sea visible in the background. Her back is turned to the viewer so she can privately contemplate the cruelty she has suffered. The picture was painted for Benson Rathbone, a Liverpool cotton broker and a friend of the artist.