John William Waterhouse
The Lady of Shalott (c.1894)
Waterhouse's 'The Lady of Shalott' Looking at Lancelot from the window.
Tennyson's poem, the tragic love of 'The Lady of Shalott' tells the story of a woman cursed to remain inside a tower on Shalott island, situated in the river which flows to Camelot.
No others know of her existence, her curse forbids her to leave the tower or to even look outside its windows. In her chamber a mirror reflects the outside world, where she weaves a tapestry illustrating the mirror's reflection.
The Lady becomes increasingly romanticised about the outside world, then upon seeing Sir Lancelot riding down to Camelot, she looks down on him from her window and the curse is fulfilled.
She flees her tower and finds a boat in the river which she marks with her name and loosens from its moorings, but 'The Lady of Shalott' dies before reaching Camelot, where she would have finally found life and love.
Biography of John William Waterhouse
Painter of classical, historical, and literary subjects. John William Waterhouse was born in 1849 in Rome, where his father worked as a painter. He was referred to as "Nino" throughout his life.
In the 1850s the family returned to England. Before entering the Royal Academy schools in 1870, Waterhouse assisted his father in his studio. His early works were of classical themes in the spirit of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederic Leighton, and were exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Society of British Artists and the Dudley Gallery. In the late 1870s and the 1880s, Waterhouse made several trips to Italy, where he painted genre scenes.
After his marriage in 1883 to Esther Kenworthy, Waterhouse took up residence at the Primrose Hill Studios (number 3, and later, number 6).
Future occupants of the same Primrose Hill studios would include the artists Arthur Rackham and Patrick Caulfield. Waterhouse painted primarily in oils, yet he was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour in 1883, resigning in 1889. In 1884, his Royal Academy submission Consulting the Oracle brought him favourable reviews; it was purchased by Sir Henry Tate, who also purchased The Lady of Shalott from the 1888 Academy exhibition. The latter painting reveals Waterhouse's growing interest in themes associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, particularly tragic or powerful femmes fatales, as well as plein-air painting. Other examples of paintings depicting a femme fatale are Circe Invidiosa, Cleopatra, La Belle Dame Sans Merci and several versions of Lamia. In 1885 Waterhouse was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and a full member in 1895. His RA diploma work was A Mermaid. However, as this painting was not completed until 1900, Waterhouse offered his Ophelia of 1888 as his temporary submission (this painting was 'lost' for most of the 20th century--it is now in the collection of Lord Lloyd Webber).
In the mid-1880s Waterhouse began exhibiting with the Grosvenor Gallery and its successor, the New Gallery, as well as at provincial exhibitions in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. Paintings of this period, such as Mariamne, were exhibited widely in England and abroad as part of the international symbolist movement. In the 1890s Waterhouse began to exhibit portraits. In 1900 he was the primary instigator of the Artists' War Fund, creating Destiny, and contributing to a theatrical performance. The pictures offered to the War Fund were auctioned at Christie's. In 1901 he moved to St John's Wood and joined the St John's Wood Arts Club, a social organization that included Alma-Tadema and George Clausen. He also served on the advisory council of the St. John's Wood Art School where young and upcoming "neo Pre-Raphaelite" artists such as Byam Shaw numbered amongst his pupils.
Despite suffering from increasing frailty during the final decade of his life, Waterhouse continued painting until his death from cancer in 1917. From 1908-1914 he painted a series of paintings based upon the Persephone legend. They were followed by pictures based upon literature and mythology in 1916 (Miranda, Tristram and Isolde). One of his final works was The Enchanted Garden, left unfinished on his easel at his death, and now in the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool.
Very little is known of Waterhouse's private life - only a few letters have survived and thus, for many years, the identity of his models has been a mystery. One letter that has survived indicates that Mary Lloyd, the model for Lord Leighton's masterpiece Flaming June, posed for Waterhouse. The well-known Italian male model, Angelo Colorossi, who sat for Leighton, Millais, Sargent, Watts, Burne-Jones and many other Victorian artists, also sat for Waterhouse.
Waterhouse and his wife Esther did not have any children. Esther Waterhouse outlived her husband by 27 years, passing away in 1944 at a nursing home. Today, she is buried alongside her husband at Kensal Green Cemetery in north London. Waterhouse's great-nephew, Dr John Physick, has carried the Waterhouse torch into the 21st century and has shared some of his memories of his family on this website: www.johnwilliamwaterhouse.com
John William Waterhouse by Paul Ripley
John William Waterhouse was born in Rome, and was always known by his family, and personal friends as Nino, the diminutive of the Italian Giovanino. Both his parents were artists. Today Waterhouse is possibly the most popular of all the artists on this web site. It is interesting to note, however, that little is known about his personal life today, considering he died in 1917, and was an active RA. What is known indicates he was a retiring, shy man, he left no diaries or journals, and, I suspect, quite deliberately covered his tracks. His friend, William Logsdail wrote his memoirs, but I have not been able to locate a copy of them.
Waterhouse became ARA in 1885, and a full RA in 1895. In 1883 he married Esther Kenworthy at the parish church in Ealing in West London. There were no children. The newly married couple lived in a purpose built artistic colony in Primrose Hill, fellow residents, and close friends were Logsdail, and Maurice Greiffenhagen and his wife. The houses had studios. Around 1900 Waterhouse and his wife moved to St John's Wood, evidence of both increasing prosperity, and the need to be part of the artistic community. He was I think one of the most accomplished British painters of the second half of the 19th century. He shared with many of them a fascination with events from antiquity and legend.
Early in his career Waterhouse established his style. It changed little, but he continually refined it, and his beautiful ladies were recognisable flesh and blood, with superb skin tones. He also painted a few excellent portraits of women, some of them being of the members of the Henderson family of Lord Faringdon, of Buscot Park fame. A lot of the pictures spent many years on the walls of prosperous Home Counties families, but the problems of Lloyds of London have, in many cases, forced their sale, just as their real value, and the artistic worth of Waterhouse's achievement has come to be realised. He continued to do the same thing throughout his career, but he did it so well, who are we to complain?
In 1917 he died of cancer, but he had carried on working virtually to the end of his life, as evidenced by the two very late pictures bought by Lord Leverhume, still on show at the Lady Lever Gallery to this day.
Article By: Dave Roberts.
First Published: 2007.
Search the following topics:
© 2016 Leeds Art Gallery Online