This important picture was the first that Poynter exhibited after his appointment as President of the Royal Academy in 1897, after the deaths in quick succession of Leighton and Millais. The Art Journal commented on it at length: 'Once again, in 'Phyllis,’ Sir Edward Poynter gives us one of those classical subjects which call for the exercise of his refined and academic powers of expression. As in the case of Neobule, she is the Phyllis of Horace, whom the amorous poet invites in an ode to come to spend the day with him in honour of Maecenas. There are the inducements of mellow wine and becoming ivy : - Est mihi nonum superantis annum Plenus Albani cadus: est in horto Phylli, nectendtis apium coronis Est hederae vis.’
The latest of the poet’s loves has come, and here she is gaily crowning herself with ivy, and admiring the effect in a hand mirror. The overspreading tree gives cool shade, and the green of the trunk sends into relief the fair flesh tones of the vain nymph who seeks to arrange to the fullest advantage the wreath and rich purple berries in her hair. Away beyond, a calm blue stretch of scene adds idyllic charm to a composition which seems faithfully to breathe the spirit of its classical inspiration.