According to Greek myth, Tantalus tried to trick the gods. They condemned him to stand for eternity in a pool beneath a tree heavy with fruit. Much as he tried, he could never reach far enough to eat or drink.
The design was one of eight, made to decorate a grand piano for William Graham, MP. They were linked by the story of Orpheus - whose music charmed all who heard it - and his descent into the Underworld in a failed attempt to rescue his wife Eurydice.