John William Waterhouse

English Pre-Raphaelite Painter and Draftsman

1849 - 1917

John William Waterhouse was an English Pre-Raphaelite painter most famous for his paintings of female characters from mythology and literature. He belonged to the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

He was born in Rome to the painters William and Isabela Waterhouse, but when he was five the family moved to South Kensington, near the newly founded Victoria and Albert Museum. He studied painting under his father before entering the Royal Academy schools in 1870. His early works were of classical themes in the spirit of Alma-Tadema and Frederic Leighton, and were exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Society of British Artists and the Dudley Gallery.

In 1874, at the age of twenty-five, Waterhouse submitted the classical allegory Sleep and His Half-Brother Death to the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. The painting was very well received and he exhibited at the RA almost every year afterwards until his death in 1917. In 1883 he married Esther Kenworthy, the daughter of an art schoolmaster from Ealing who had exhibited her own flower-paintings at the Royal Academy and elsewhere. They had two children, but both died in childhood.

In 1895 Waterhouse was elected to the status of full Academician. He taught at the St. John's Wood Art School, joined the St John's Wood Arts Club, and served on the Royal Academy Council.

One of Waterhouse's most famous paintings is The Lady of Shalott, a study of Elaine of Astolat, who dies of grief when Lancelot will not love her. He actually painted three different versions of this character, in 1888, 1896, and 1916.

Another of Waterhouse's favorite subjects was Ophelia; the most famous of his paintings of Ophelia depicts her just before her death, putting flowers in her hair as she sits on a tree branch leaning over a lake. Like The Lady of Shallot and other Waterhouse paintings, it deals with a woman dying in or near water. He also may have been inspired by paintings of Ophelia by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Millais. He submitted his Ophelia painting of 1888 in order to receive his diploma from the Royal Academy. (He had originally wanted to submit a painting titled "A Mermaid", but it was not completed in time.) After this, the painting was lost until the 20th century, and is now displayed in the collection of Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Waterhouse would paint Ophelia again in 1894 and 1909 or 1910, and planned another painting in the series, called "Ophelia in the Churchyard."

Waterhouse could not finish the series of Ophelia paintings because he was gravely ill with cancer by 1915. He died two years later, and his grave can be found at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

The Lady of Shallot

The legend of the Lady of Shalott supposedly takes place during the time of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The lady is imprisoned in a small castle by a fairy who tells her that if she looks upon Camelot a curse will come upon her, but she does not know what the curse is. In the castle the Lady of Shalott has a mirror in which she can see shadows of what is happening in Camelot. She enjoys weaving the images she sees on a magical loom. One day she sees the knight Lancelot through the mirror and falls madly in love with him. She decides to leave Shalott and take the chance that she will be able to gaze upon his face and enter Camelot. As soon as she steps out of the castle the mirror cracks and she knows the curse has fallen upon her. She runs down to the water, boards a small boat, and heads off towards Camelot, but sadly she dies just before reaching it. Her dead body is found in the boat which floats to Camelot's shore, her name written around its prow. The Lady of Shalott is said to foreshadow the downfall of Camelot. Just as Sir Lancelot was the Lady of Shalott's destruction, his affair with Queen Guinevere leads to the destruction of Camelot

. Waterhouse fully captured the Lady in her crazed, frantic state, desperately trying to reach Camelot, dying as she goes. On the front of the boat surrounded by candles lies a cross, with the image of Jesus nailed to it, symbolizing her willingness to sacrifice her life for love. The tapestry she is sitting on is one she wove on her loom, depicting scenes of Camelot. The two images on the tapestry that can be seen are the Lady of Shalott herself riding toward Camelot in the boat, and sir Lancelot on a horse surrounded by other knights.


Part I.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veil'd
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

Part II.

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half-sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A redcross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle-bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale-yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse--
Like some bold seër in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot
. And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right--
The leaves upon her falling light--
Thro' the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot;
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
A corse between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Hylas and the Nymphs

Hylas and the Nymphs originates from Greek myth. As the legend goes King Hylas was on an expedition when he decided to go ashore to get some water. When he reached into a spring to retrieve it he was carried off by water nymphs, never to be seen again. (encyclopedia.org) Waterhouse portrays King Hylas surrounded by seven nymphs. Enraptured with their beauty he is unaware of the fate about to befall him. This painting has a similar theme to La Belle Dam Sans Mercie. Both paintings depict the Femme Fatale, a common theme in Victorian literature and paintings, where the beauty of a woman causes a man to be off his guard, leading ultimately to his death. Beauty and the sense of immediate danger in both these pieces have grabbed viewers for the last century. Many of Waterhouse’s most famous images share the same tie of impending doom. Images including The Lady of Shallot, La Belle Dam Sans Mercie, Ophelia, Mariamne Leaving the Judgment Seat of Herod, Saint Cecilia and Hylas and the Nymphs. “Often in Waterhouse we see a bitter-sweet tension between earthly beauty and impending doom.”

A Grecian Flower Market

A Hamadryad

Hamadryads are Greek mythological beings that live in trees. They are a specific species of dryad, which are a particular type of nymph. Hamadryads are born bonded to a specific tree. If their tree died, the hamadryad associated with it died as well. For that reason, dryads and the gods punished any mortals who harmed trees. The Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus lists eight Hamadryads, the daughters of Oxylus and Hamadryas:

Karya (Nut tree)
Balanos (Acorn tree)
Kraneia (Cornel tree)
Morea (Mulberry tree)
Aigeiros (Black Poplar tree)
Ptelea (Elm tree)
Ampelos (Vines)
Syke (Fig tree)

A Mermaid

A mermaid (from the Middle English mere in the obsolete sense 'sea' (as in maritime, the Latin mare, "sea") + maid (en) is a legendary aquatic creature with the head and torso of human female and the tail of a fish. The male version of a mermaid is called a merman; gender-neutral plurals could be merpeople or merfolk. Various cultures throughout the world have similar figures.

Much like sirens, mermaids in stories would sometimes sing to sailors and enchant them, distracting them from their work and causing them to walk off the deck or cause shipwrecks. Other stories would have them squeeze the life out of drowning men while trying to rescue them. They are also said to take them down to their underwater kingdoms. In Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid it is said that they forget that humans cannot breathe underwater, while others say they drown men out of spite.

The Sirens of Greek mythology are sometimes portrayed in later folklore as mermaid-like; in fact, some languages use the same word for both creatures. Other related types of mythical or legendary creature are water fairies and selkies, animals that can transform themselves from seals to humans.

A Naiad

In Greek mythology, the Naiads were a type of nymph who presided over fountains, wells, springs, streams, and brooks. They are distinct from river gods, who embodied rivers, and the very ancient spirits that inhabited the still waters of marshes, ponds and lagoon-lakes, such as pre-Mycenaean Lerna in the Argolid. Naiads were associated with fresh water, as the Oceanids were with saltwater and the Nereids specifically with the Mediterranean; but because the Greeks thought of the world's waters as all one system, which percolated in from the sea in deep cavernous spaces within the earth, there was some overlap. Arethusa, the nymph of a spring, could make her way through subterranean flows from the Peloponnesus, to surface on the island of Sicily.

A Sick Child Brought Into the Temple of Aesculapius

Asclepius was married to Epione, with whom he had six daughters: Hygieia, Meditrina (the serpent-bearer), Panacea, Aceso, Iaso, and Aglaea, and three sons: Machaon, Telesphoros, and Podalirius. He also bore a son, Aratus, with Aristodama.

Coronis (or Arsinoe) became pregnant with Asclepius by Apollo but fell in love with Ischys, son of Elatus. A crow informed Apollo of the affair and he sent his sister, Artemis, to kill Coronis. Her body was burned on a funeral pyre, staining the white feathers of the crows permanently black. Apollo rescued the baby by performing the first caesarean section and gave it to the centaur Chiron to raise. Enraged by his grief, Coronis' father Phlegyas torched the Apollonian temple at Delphi, for which Apollo promptly killed him.

Chiron taught Asclepius the art of surgery, teaching him to be the most well-respected doctor of his day. According to the Pythian Odes of Pindar, Chiron also taught him the use of drugs, incantations and love potions. In The Library, Apollodorus claimed that Athena gave him a vial of blood from the Gorgons. Gorgon blood had magical properties: if taken from the left side of the Gorgon, it was a fatal poison; from the right side, the blood was capable of bringing the dead back to life. According to some, Asclepius fought alongside the Achaeans in the Trojan War, and cured Philoctetes of his famous snake bite. However, others have attributed this to either Machaon or Podalirius, Asclepius' sons, who Homer mentions repeatedly in his Iliad as talented healers. Asclepius, on the other hand, is only referred to by Homer in relation to Machaon and Podalirius.

Asclepius' powers were not appreciated by all, and his ability to revive the dead soon drew the ire of Zeus, who struck him down with a thunderbolt. According to some, Zeus was angered, specifically, by Asclepius' acceptance of money in exchange for resurrection. Another story says Asclepius healed people and may have even made them immortal. This was unacceptable to the god of the Underworld, Hades, who considered these souls his rightful property. Hades prevailed upon Zeus, his brother and king of the gods, to hurl a lightning bolt through Asclepius's head. Zeus proclaimed that all of medicine thereafter could only be palliative -- make the person more comfortable while they either die or get well on their own -- but cures were not allowed. Others say that Zeus killed Asclepius after he agreed to resurrect Hippolytus at the behest of Artemis. Zeus may or may not have smitten Hippolytus with the same bolt. Either way, Asclepius' death at the hands of Zeus may symbolize man's inability to challenge the natural order that separates mortal men from the gods.

Zeus, saddened at the loss of the original three Cyclops, decided to return them from Hades. Apollo also persuaded him to bring Asclepius back. Zeus consented after much begging and made Asclepius and his daughters, deities of medicine, after bringing them to Olympus, much to Apollo's joy.

After he realized Asclepius' importance to the world of men, Zeus placed him in the sky as the constellation Ophiuchus. The name, "serpent-bearer," refers to the Rod of Asclepius, which was entwined with a single serpent. This symbol has now become a symbol for physicians across the globe. However, one should be careful not to confuse the Staff of Asclepius, which features a single serpent wrapped around a roughhewn branch, with the Caduceus of Mercury (Roman), or Karykeion of Hermes (Greek). The Caduceus which features two intertwined serpents (rather than the single serpent in Asclepius' wand as well as a pair of wings has long been a symbol of commerce. It is thought that the two were first confused in the seventh century A.D., when alchemists often used the caduceus to symbolize their association with magical or "hermetic" arts.

A Song of Springtime

A Tale From the Decameron

The Decameron in the Original

English Translation of the Italian

After the Dance

'The picture shows a Roman interior, with a portion of the atrium and a peep into the court beyond. Two figures, a boy and a girl, recline on cushions, one sitting and the other languidly stretched on the tessellated pavement with a tambourine alongside. In the distance a group of minstrels on the extreme left complete the composition... There is no pretence of archaeological display, nor any highly-wrought detail, or accessories introduced for the mere mastery of textures...'

'...two Greek girls, gracefully draped, resting themselves in the atrium of the house wherein they have been dancing. The coloring is quiet, and yet not without a certain richness, the prevailing tints being yellow, green, brown and grey. One girl lies on her back, the other sits at her side...'

Apollo and Daphne

In Greek mythology, Daphne was the daughter of the river god Peneius. She was similar in many ways to the goddess Artemis, in that she was also a virgin huntress who happily roamed the wilderness. One day, the love god Eros shot a flurry of arrows to taunts from Apollo, the god of prophecy. The first of Eros' arrows was a gold-tipped shaft and when it struck Apollo it made him fall immediately in love with Daphne. The second one, however, had a lead tip and caused Daphne to become even more indifferent that she already had been to any lover. Apollo, however, pursued Daphne relentlessly until, in desperation, she turned herself into a laurel tree on the banks of her father's river.


'Whan Adryane his wif aslepe was
For that hire syster fayrer was than she,
He taketh hire in his hond and forth goth he
To shipe, and as a traytour stal his wey
, Whil that this Adryane aslepe lay.'

Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), 'The Legend of Good Women'

Each year, as payment for the slaughter of Minos' son, the Athenians offered a tribute of youths and maidens to the monstrous Minotaur that dwelt in the Cretan labyrinth. Designed by Dedalus, the labyrinth was built of such complexity that nobody had ever escaped from its confines. Ariadne's father, Minos, the King of Crete, selected Theseus as part of the offering, but on his arrival at the island Ariadne fell in love with him and, loath to see him die, secretly gave him a spool of thread by which he could trace his way from the maze. Theseus slew the Minotaur and fled from Crete, carrying Ariadne away as his wife, but when they arrived at the island of Naxos the Olympic gods shrouded his mind with forgetfulness and he deserted her while she lay asleep.

At Capri

At the Shrine


The reappearance of Waterhouse's Boreas in the saleroom in the mid 1990s caused a sensation as it had been lost for 90 years. Called Boreas after the north wind in Greek mythology, the work shows a young girl in a windswept landscape. In 1904 the Royal Academy notes described the subject as: In wind-blown draperies of slate-color and blue, a girl passes through a spring landscape accented by pink blossom and daffodils. Since then, the picture's whereabouts have been unknown and it was referred to as lost in Anthony Hobson's 1989 biography.

The painting was sold for £848,500 ($1,293,962) - the record price for a Waterhouse at the time.

Circe Invidiosa

Waterhouse took the subject of this painting from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Scylla, a water nymph, was loved by Glaucus, a sea deity. She rejected his advances, and he turned for aid to Circe, the enchantress.Circe, however, fell in love with Glaucus herself, and to destroy Scylla, her rival, poisoned the stream where the nymph was accustomed to bathe. When Scylla entered the water she was transformed into a hideous monster, whereupon she threw herself into the sea which separates Italy from Sicily and was changed into the rock, so perilous to sailors, which bears her name.

Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses

Waterhouse was inspired by Homer's Odyssey to paint several other masterpieces, one of which is Circë Offering the Cup to Ulysses. Circë was a beautiful sorceress who turned mortals into animals by giving them a wine filled with an evil potion. Circë used such a potion on Ulysses' crew turning them into pigs while Ulysses was taking care of another matter. Ulysses learned of this and was able to attain a medicine from Hermes to prevent Circë's potions from having an effect on him. He went to Circë, who had him drink the potion to turn him into a pig as well, when it did not work Ulysses drew his sword and threatened Circë who, in disbelief, begged him to forgive her.

Waterhouse portrays Circë, cup in one hand, wand in the other, surrounded by purple flowers, the color of royalty, offering the potion to Ulysses. She thinks herself a queen. She sits on a golden throne, roaring lions depicted on each arm. By her side lies a pig, perhaps one of Ulysses' men. There are other animals portrayed in the painting depicting other mortals who fell into Circë's grasp, including a toad in the foreground and a duck which can be seen reflected in the left side of the mirror behind her. Also in the mirror, Ulysses himself can be seen fists clenched, ready to attack.


Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator (Greek: Goddess Loving Her Father)
b. 69 BC, d. Aug. 30, 30 BC, Alexandria, Egypt

She is the Egyptian queen famous in history and drama who was the lover of Julius Caesar and later the wife of Mark Antony. She became queen on the death of her father, Ptolemy XII, in 51 BC, ruling successively with her two brothers Ptolemy XIII (51-47) and Ptolemy XIV (47-44) and her son Ptolemy XV Caesar (44-30). After the Roman armies of Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) defeated their combined forces, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Egypt fell under Roman domination. Her ambition no less than her charm actively influenced Roman politics at a crucial period, and she came to represent, as did no other woman of antiquity, the prototype of the romantic femme fatale


Consulting the Oracle

In this painting Waterhouse depicts a "semicircle of woman seeking the prophecies of the Teraph (a human skull), and the figure of the priestess as she 'interprets its decree with terror'..... The Illustrated London News described it as one of the principal works of the year and engraved it across two pages of an extra supplement: it was bought by Sir Henry Tate and is one of the four Waterhouse pictures in the Tate Gallery."


The fifty daughters of Danaüs, King of Argos, were commanded in obedience to a prophecy to murder their husbands on their wedding night; all but one obeyed, and were punished by having to draw water in sieves from a deep well, or by pouring it endlessly into a vessel from which it continually escaped.

Dante and Beatrice

The story of Dante and Beatrice is one of the greatest of unrequited, distant love.

Durante degli Alighieri better known as Dante was an Italian Florentine poet. His greatest work, La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), is considered the greatest literary statement produced in Europe in the medieval period, and the basis of the modern Italian language.

Dante was nearly nine years old when he first set eyes on Beatrice Portinari, in a gathering at her father's palazzo in Florence. She was a few months younger than Dante and dressed in a crimson dress. She captivated him completely. As he later wrote, "From that time forward love fully ruled my soul." For the next nine years he remained absolutely besotted with her but only from a distance and it was only in 1283, when he was 18, that she spoke to him as they passed each other in the street.

In 13th century Florence arranged marriages were the norm, especially amongst the uppers classes, to which both Dante and Beatrice belonged. So, at the age of 21 Dante was married off to Gemma Donati, to whom he had been betrothed since the age of 12 and Beatrice married a year later too, only to die three years after that, at the tender age of 24. Dante was devastated. He remained devoted to Beatrice for the rest of his life and she was his principal inspiration for much of his well known work, such as La Vita Nuova (The New Life) and La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy).

When Dante first saw Beatrice, he tells us she was dressed in soft crimson and wore a girdle about her waist. He fell in love with her at first sight and thought of her as angelic with divine and noble qualities. He frequented places where he could catch a glimpse of her, but she never spoke to him until nine years later. Then one afternoon he saw her dressed in white, walking down a street in Florence. Accompanied by two older women, Beatrice turned and greeted him. Her greeting filled him with such joy that he retreated to his room to think about her. Falling asleep, he had a dream that became the subject of the first sonnet in his La Vita Nuova, one of the world's greatest romantic poems. Two chapters from La Vita Nuova are quoted below:

When exactly nine years had passed since this gracious being appeared to me, as I have described, it happened that on the last day of this intervening period this marvel appeared before me again, dressed in purest white, walking between two other women of distinguished bearing, both older than herself. As they walked down the street she turned her eyes toward me where I stood in fear and trembling, and with her ineffable courtesy, which is now rewarded in eternal life, she greeted me; and such was the virtue of her greeting that I seemed to experience the height of bliss. It was exactly the ninth hour of day when she gave me her sweet greeting. As this was the first time she had ever spoken to me, I was filled with such joy that, my senses reeling, I had to withdraw from the sight of others. So I returned to the loneliness of my room and began to think about this gracious person. (La Vita Nuova III)

Whenever and wherever she appeared, in the hope of receiving her miraculous salutation I felt I had not an enemy in the world. Indeed, I glowed with a flame of charity which moved me to forgive all who had ever injured me; and if at that moment someone had asked me a question, about anything, my only reply would have been: 'Love', with a countenance clothed with humility. When she was on the point of bestowing her greeting, a spirit of love, destroying all the other spirits of the senses, drove away the frail spirits of vision and said: 'Go and pay homage to your lady'; and Love himself remained in their place. Anyone wanting to behold Love could have done so then by watching the quivering of my eyes. And when this most gracious being actually bestowed the saving power of her salutation, I do not say that Love as an intermediary could dim for me such unendurable bliss but, almost by excess of sweetness, his influence was such that my body, which was then utterly given over to his governance, often moved like a heavy, inanimate object. So it is plain that in her greeting resided all my joy, which often exceeded and overflowed my capacity. (La Vita Nuova XI)


"In 1899 the Boer War had begun in South Africa, and in the spring of 1900 350 artists donated works to the Artists' War Fund in support of the British troops. After being exhibited in the London Guildhall, the pictures were auctioned by Christie's, who waived the £12,000 profit in favor of the Fund. Destiny was painted by Waterhouse especially for the cause, as shown by his own inscription 'Artists' War Fund' above his signature, and was selected by The Studio as one of the most noteworthy in the exhibition. The girl drinking a libation to the departing heroes was a favorite model for the rest of his career; statuesque in her beauty, she casts a sympathetic gaze towards the ships already under sail. Waterhouse's setting is typical of his origins - Italianate and geometrical: the circles of the mirror and its stand are repeated in the arches of the tiled loggia and the front of the lectern."


Diogenes of Sinope, d. c.320 BC, was a Greek philosopher, perhaps the most noted of the Cynics. He pursued the Cynic ideal of self-sufficiency, a life that was natural and not dependent upon the nonessential luxuries of civilization. A student of Antisthenes, he is credited with the development of the chreia (moral epigram), with a scandalous attack of convention entitled Republic (which influenced Zeno of Citium), and with tragedies illustrative of the human predicament. Because Diogenes believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory, he made his life a protest against what he thought of as a corrupt society. He is said to have lived in a large tub, rather than house, and to have gone about Athens with a lantern in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man--but never finding one. In later art, Diogenes is often depicted in a torn cloak, with a dog, carrying a lantern.

Dolce Far Niente

Echo and Narcissus

'Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that liv'st unseen
Within thy airy shell
By slow Meander's margent green,
And in the violet-embroidered vale
Where the lovelorn nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well:
Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
That likest thy Narcissus are?'

John Milton (1608-1674), 'Comus'

Punished by a goddess for her constant chatter, Echo was confined to repeating the words of others. Enamoured of Narcissus, the son of the river god Cephisus and the nymph Liriope, she tried to win his love using fragments of his own speech but he spurned her attentions. Passing by a stream, the beautiful youth caught a glimpse of his reflection is a stream and became transfixed by the lovely image. Believing it to be the form of a nymph, he vainly courted the watery mirage and wasted away through unrequited love. He was transformed into the flower that bears his name and Echo pined away until nothing but her voice remained.

Fair Rosamund

Rosamond (born circa 1140, died circa 1176) also spelled Rosamund, known as 'The Fair Rosamond'

Rosamond was a mistress of Henry II of England. She was the subject of many legends and stories.

Rosamond is believed to have been the daughter of Walter de Clifford of the family of Fitz-Ponce (the ruins of the castle where she was born are located just outside the book town of Hay-on-Wye, Wales). She is said to have been Henry's mistress secretly for several years but was openly acknowledged by him only when he imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, as a punishment for encouraging her sons in the rebellion of 1173-74. Rosamond died in or about 1176 and was buried in the nunnery church of Godstow before the high altar. The body was removed by order of St. Hugh, bishop of Lincoln, in 1191 and was, seemingly, reinterred in the chapter house.

The story that she was poisoned by Queen Eleanor first appears in the French Chronicle of London in the 14th century. The romantic details of the labyrinth at Woodstock, including the clue that guided King Henry II to her bower, were the inventions of storywriters of later times. There is no evidence to support the popular belief that she was the mother of Henry's natural son William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury.


Flora was the Roman goddess of flowering plants. She was honored every year at the time of the Floralia, a theatrical festival when the people decked themselves in flowers and enjoyed a great feast lasting for six days.

Gather Ye Rosebuds

A young woman stands holding a bowl stretched out to the viewer filled with roses. Her head is elevated slightly and her eyes peer out through a window which can be seen reflected in a mirror behind her. Two purple flowers can also be seen reflected in the mirror, one wilting and one standing tall and strait. This painting acknowledges the passing of time and how quickly life vanishes. The title Gather Ye Rosebuds while Ye May reveals the true meaning in this painting. One must gather rosebuds because they bloom and wilt quickly just as the beauty of the girl will quickly fade to dust and she will no longer be able to pick them. This meaning is even more poignant when one realizes that the painting was painted 95 years ago and both the artist and the girl depicted are dead. Waterhouse painted another painting with the same theme also entitled Gather Ye Rosebuds while Ye May where two women are picking roses out in a garden.

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old time is still a-flying;
And the same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

Robert Herrick

Celebrating the splendor of youth and the joys of spring, this important rediscovery was made by Odon Wagner. The work has never been exhibited in public and was reproduced only once during the artist's lifetime. The painting is signed and dated 1909 and has been established as the first picture in the Symbolist 'Persephone' series that engrossed Waterhouse from 1909 to 1914.

Gathering Almond Blossoms

Gathering Summer Flowers in a Devonshire Garden

This painting was sold by Christies in March 1995. The following text is taken from their catalogue:

Waterhouse's sister-in-law Emily, married the landscape painter Peregrine Feeney, who built a house at Baggy Point, Croyde in Devon, after leaving Primrose Hill in 1892. The present picture can be dated between 1893 and 1910 when both Waterhouse and his wife, Esther, were frequent visitors to the cottage in Croyde. Few examples of his work from this period are in existence today.

The lady depicted in the rose filled garden may be the artist's wife. She bears a resemblance to the portrait of Esther that Waterhouse completed in 1894 which is now in the Sheffield City Art Gallery. It seems feasible that she may have posed for the picture on one of their visits to Devon, although the exact identity of the figure is difficult to ascertain from her features alone.

Good Neghbors

Also known as 'Gossip' or 'The Gossips' or 'Washing Day'.

I am Half Sick of the Shadows

This painting is based on The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

It illustrates the lines:

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

In the Peristyle

Jason and Medea

During the adventure of the Argonauts, Jason put ashore at Colchis where he met Medea, the daughter of Aeetes, and was bewitched by her beauty. Aeetes, the King of Colchis, obstructed Jason's quest for the golden fleece by setting him an impossible task, but Medea, being in love with him, helped him perform it by magic and escaped with him to Greece. Overcome by wrath, Aeetes pursued her and, in an effort to delay his advances, Medea murdered her brother, strewing his mutilated limbs in her father's path. On their arrival at Iolcos, Medea rejuvenated Jason's father Aeson by boiling him with magic herbs but her evil trickery forced them to flee to Corinth, where Jason deserted her for Glauce. Medea took revenge by slaughtering their children and poisoning her rival.



In classical mythology, Lamia was a female daemon who devoured children. According to late myths she was a queen of Libya who was beloved by Zeus. When Hera robbed her of her children from this union, Lamia killed every child she could get into her power. She was also known as a fiend who, in the form of a beautiful woman, seduced young men in order to devour them.

It was this latter incarnation of Lamia as a beautiful woman that inspired John Keats to write his poem Lamia, published in 1820. Waterhouse bases his portrayal of Lamia upon Keats' poem:

She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv'd, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries--
So rainbow-sided, touch'd with miseries,
She seem'd, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self.


La Belle Dam Sans Mercie

This painting is probably one of Waterhouse’s more famous images. Translated in English as 'The Beautiful Woman Without Mercy,' this painting depicts a woman ensnaring a knight in the forest, drawing him towards her with her hair. The knight, totally enraptured by her beauty stares into her eyes hopelessly. As Peter Trippi, world expert on Waterhouse, points out in his catalog résumé: "This picture owes its intensity not only to the seductive gaze from the lady’s eye, but also the figures’ expressive juxtaposition.” Trippi also says that La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a result of the “fascination with the hypnotic power of beauty.” The title of this piece derives from a poem by Keats first published in 1820, in which a knight is bewitched by a fairy in a meadow, almost costing him his life. (Résumé on J.W. Waterhouse) La Belle Dam Sans Mercie is a common theme depicted in many Victorian paintings of a woman using her beauty to entrap men, putting them at great peril. It is truly an amazing work of art.

Saint Cecilia

One of Waterhouse's greatest master pieces is Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music, lying asleep in a chair. Two angels kneel by her side, both playing stringed instruments. The angels as well as Cecelia herself share a look of gentle innocence and vulnerability. The angels look at Cecelia admiringly for her strong faith and lasting virginity. The book in her hand is most likely the holy gospel which the actual saint always carried concealed from her non-Christian family. Saint Cecilia is considered to be one of the Catholic Church's greatest martyrs. She converted many to Christianity which eventually cost her life. She was ordered to be suffocated by steam, but survived and was found smiling inside the chamber. She was then ordered to be beheaded, but the executioner could not sever her head with the three blows allowed. She supposedly survived for three days, throughout which she was said to be fully coherent and joyful. She finally died after being blessed by the holy Pontiff Urban.

La Fileuse

La Fileuse shows Fate spinning the destiny of man on her distaff. She holds the distaff in her hand, which is a spindle used to hold flax or wool for hand spinning the thread.



This image is one of Waterhouse's most dramatic paintings. Mariamne was considered to be the favorite of King Herod's ten wives. He supposedly loved her quite dearly, but let false rumors of gross unfaithfulness brought to him by her sister, Salome, hold sway with him. Herod put Mariamne on trial for the crime, and with great despair sentenced her to be executed. Mariamne is depicted arms bound and fists clenched staring at her husband, Herod, with a look of hurt disbelief. King Herod, unable to bring himself to look at her drops his head to avoid her gaze. Behind her in a semi-circle sits some of the elders, powerful people in Herod's kingdom. Her dress is white symbolizing her purity and innocence of the crime.

Mariana In the South

The character Mariana in William Shakespeare's 'Measure for Measure' is the jilted lover of Angelo, the acting governor of Vienna. Angelo abuses the powers of government invested in him by the duke, by offering to pardon Isabella's brother, Claudio, who has been sentenced to death for seduction, if she will sacrifice her honor to him. The duke, disguised as a friar, learns of Angelo's terrible conduct and contrives Claudio's escape. The ruse is for Isabella to consent to attend Angelo's house at midnight, but to send Mariana in her place, thereby foiling Angelo's designs while liberating Claudio. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, made Mariana the subject of two poems, 'Mariana' and its sequel 'Mariana in the South', dwelling on her abject despair as she waits in the lonely moated grange for her lover to return, while her surroundings decay around her. Her tears fall night and morning and she cannot draw pleasure from anything in heaven or on earth. Tormented by haunting voices from her past, she is overcome by weariness and yearns for death.


With one black shadow at its feet,
The house thro' all the level shines,
Close-latticed to the brooding heat,
And silent in its dusty vines:
A faint-blue ridge upon the right,
An empty river-bed before,
And shallows on a distant shore,
In glaring sand and inlets bright.
But 'Ave Mary,' made she moan,
And 'Ave Mary,' night and morn,
And 'Ah,' she sang, 'to be all alone,
To live forgotten, and love forlorn.'

She, as her carol sadder grew,
From brow and bosom slowly down
Thro' rosy taper fingers drew
Her streaming curls of deepest brown
To left and right, and made appear
Still-lighted in a secret shrine,
Her melancholy eyes divine,
The home of woe without a tear.
And 'Ave Mary,' was her moan,
'Madonna, sad is night and morn,'
And 'Ah,' she sang, 'to be all alone,
To live forgotten, and love forlorn.'

Till all the crimson changed, and past
Into deep orange o'er the sea,
Low on her knees herself she cast,
Before Our Lady murmur'd she;
Complaining, 'Mother, give me grace
To help me of my weary load.'
And on the liquid mirror glow'd
The clear perfection of her face.
'Is this the form,' she made her moan,
'That won his praises night and morn?'
And 'Ah,' she said, 'but I wake alone,
I sleep forgotten, I wake forlorn.'

Nor bird would sing, nor lamb would bleat,
Nor any cloud would cross the vault,
But day increased from heat to heat,
On stony drought and steaming salt;
Till now at noon she slept again,
And seem'd knee-deep in mountain grass,
And heard her native breezes pass,
And runlets babbling down the glen.
She breathed in sleep a lower moan,
And murmuring, as at night and morn,
She thought, 'My spirit is here alone,
Walks forgotten, and is forlorn.'

Dreaming, she knew it was a dream:
She felt he was and was not there.
She woke: the babble of the stream
Fell, and, without, the steady glare
Shrank one sick willow sere and small.
The river-bed was dusty-white;
And all the furnace of the light
Struck up against the blinding wall.
She whisper'd, with a stifled moan
More inward than at night or morn,
'Sweet Mother, let me not here alone
Live forgotten and die forlorn.'

And, rising, from her bosom drew
Old letters, breathing of her worth,
For 'Love,' they said, 'must needs be true,
To what is loveliest upon earth.'
An image seem'd to pass the door,
To look at her with slight, and say
'But now thy beauty flows away,
So be alone for evermore.'
'O cruel heart,' she changed her tone,
'And cruel love, whose end is scorn,
Is this the end to be left alone,
To live forgotten, and die forlorn?'

But sometimes in the falling day
An image seem'd to pass the door,
To look into her eyes and say,
'But thou shalt be alone no more.'
And flaming downward over all
From heat to heat the day decreased,
And slowly rounded to the east
The one black shadow from the wall.
'The day to night,' she made her moan,
'The day to night, the night to morn,
And day and night I am left alone
To live forgotten, and love forlorn.'

At eve a dry cicala sung,
There came a sound as of the sea;
Backward the lattice-blind she flung,
And lean'd upon the balcony.
There all in spaces rosy-bright
Large Hesper glitter'd on her tears,
And deepening thro' the silent spheres
Heaven over Heaven rose the night.
And weeping then she made her moan,
'The night comes on that knows not morn,
When I shall cease to be all alone,
To live forgotten, and love forlorn.'


Miranda is a character is William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. The play was first performed around 1611.

Miss Betty Pollock

Miss Margaret Henderson

My Sweet Rose

There is a garden in her face,
Where roses and white lilies grow;
A heavenly paradise is that place,
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow.
These cherries grow which none may buy,
Till "Cherry-ripe" themselves do cry.

Those cherries fairly do enclose
Of orient pearl a double row,
Which when her lovely laughter shows,
They look like rosebuds filled with snow.
Yet them nor peer nor prince can buy,
Till "Cherry-ripe" themselves do cry.

Her eyes like angels watch them still;
Her brows like bended bows do stand,
Threatening with piercing frowns to kill
All that attempt with eye or hand
Those sacred cherries to come nigh,
Till "Cherry-ripe" themselves do cry.

Thomas Campion

Nymphs Finding The Head of Orpheus

Traditionally, Orpheus was the son of a Muse (probably Calliope, the patron of epic poetry) and Oeagrus, a king of Thrace (other versions give Apollo). According to some legends, Apollo gave Orpheus his first lyre. Orpheus' singing and playing were so beautiful that animals and even trees and rocks moved about him in dance.

Orpheus joined the expedition of the Argonauts, saving them from the music of the Sirens by playing his own, more powerful music. On his return, he married Eurydice, who was soon killed by a snakebite. Overcome with grief, Orpheus ventured himself to the land of the dead to attempt to bring Eurydice back to life. With his singing and playing he charmed the ferryman Charon and the dog Cerberus, guardians of the River Styx. His music and grief so moved Hades, king of the underworld, that Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice with him back to the world of life and light. Hades set one condition, however: upon leaving the land of death, both Orpheus and Eurydice were forbidden to look back. The couple climbed up toward the opening into the land of the living, and Orpheus, seeing the Sun again, turned back to share his delight with Eurydice. In that moment, she disappeared.

Orpheus himself was later killed by the women of Thrace. The motive and manner of his death vary in different accounts, but the earliest known, that of Aeschylus, says that they were Maenads urged by Dionysus to tear him to pieces in a Bacchic orgy because he preferred the worship of the rival god Apollo. His head, still singing, with his lyre, floated to Lesbos, where an oracle of Orpheus was established. The head prophesied until the oracle became more famous than that of Apollo at Delphi, at which time Apollo himself bade the Orphic oracle stop. The dismembered limbs of Orpheus were gathered up and buried by the Muses. His lyre they had placed in the heavens as a constellation.


Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, sister to Laertes, and rejected lover of Hamlet in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. Ophelia is a symbol of innocence gone mad. A dutiful daughter, she is manipulated into spying on Hamlet and must bear his humiliating and brutal remarks. She believes him to be mad, commenting sadly "O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown." Having lost Hamlet's affection, she herself goes mad when her father is killed by Hamlet. Her mad scene (act IV, scene 5) is one of the best known in Western literature. Her madness and death and Hamlet's behaviour at her graveside further inflame Laertes to vengeance.

Waterhouse depicts Ophelia lying in a riverside meadow in an attitude of deranged abandon, one hand in her tousled hair, the other grasping flowers.

This painting was auctioned at Sotheby's, London in November 2001. Prior to this auction this painting has only been known to us in black & white. Waterhouse kept the painting in his studio for his entire life and made several alterations to it over the years.

Ophelia sits by the edge of the river tormented by a deep sadness. She is putting flowers in her hair preparing herself for suicide. The story of Ophelia derives from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Hamlet, Ophelia’s love and betrothed, rejects Ophelia and orders her to a nunnery because he is obsessed with revenge against his uncle, who he knows murdered his own father, and married his mother in order to become king. Hamlet’s bizarre behavior, which she does not understand, drives Ophelia mad, causing her to throw herself into a river, singing as she drowns. This painting portrays Ophelia and her story beautifully. Waterhouse has truly captured the way she might have looked before her suicide, her gazing out at nothing, entranced in thought, mindlessly placing flowers in her hair, driven crazy from grief. Peter Trippi quoted that “the Art Journal noted her ‘wistful-sad look’ and observed that, ‘never can this beautiful creature, troubled with emotion, experience the joys of womanhood’” Hamlet having never actually slept with her. This painting is often compared to John Everett Millais’ Ophelia in which she is floating already dead in the water. Millais’ Ophelia was painted from 1851-1852.


In myth, Pandora was the first woman ever to be created. At the request of Zeus, she was fashioned from clay by Hephaestus and blessed with every gift the gods could grant. Zeus then endowed her with a box to present to the man who married her, thereby planning to destroy Prometheus' creation of man by giving Pandora to him as a wife. Realizing, however, that Prometheus would be too wise to accept the gift, Zeus conducted her to his less cautious brother, Epimetheus, who married her and opened the box thereby unleashing all the evils and diseases to afflict the world. Only hope lingered at the bottom of the box to console man in his troubles.

Penelope and the Suitors

While her husband, Ulysses, was absent fighting in the Trojan War, Penelope waited faithfully for him in Ithaca. When he failed to return at the end of the war she was plagued by persistent suitors and, even though she remained aloof, the local noblemen could not be discouraged. Desperate to avoid re-marriage, she conceived the idea of postponing her decision until she had completed weaving a piece of tapestry intended as a shroud for Laertes, Ulysses' father. Every night she unraveled the work she had done during the day thereby prolonging her labor until the return of Ulysses finally delivered her from the suitors.

Mrs Charles Schreiber

Phyllis Waterlo

Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden

Psyche represents the human spirit or soul, and in mythology she was represented as a princess so beautiful that people adored her instead of Venus. To put an end to this sacrilege, Venus sent her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest creature he could find. but when Cupid saw her he fell in love and forgot his mother's command. They became lovers, though Cupid forbade Psyche ever to look upon him. When at last she did, he fled in fear of what Venus would do to him in revenge. Psyche roamed the earth in search of her lover, facing obstacles thrown in her way by Venus to prove that she was worthy of her son. One of these tasks involved a golden box which she was forbidden from opening. When she did open it, she fell into a deep sleep of death. Eventually, however, Jupiter agreed that the lovers could be united for eternity. The couple's daughter was named Voluptas ("pleasure").

Psyche Opening The Golden Box


Sleep and His Half Brother Death

J.A. Blaikie gave a brief critique of this painting in 'The Magazine of Art' (1886):

'The two figures recline side by side on a low couch, beyond which are the columns of a colonnade open to the night and touched with moonlight. The interior is lit by a lamp, whose light streams on the foremost figure, Sleep, whose head hangs in heavy stupor on his breast, and his right hand grasps some poppies. By his side lies Death in dusky shadow, with head thrown back, and the lines of the figure expressive of easeful lassitude. At his feet is an antique lyre, while immediately in the foreground is a low round table? The two figures are both young, and the beauty of youth belongs to one as much as to the other? the strange likeness and unlikeness of the recumbent figures.'

Saint Eulalia

This painting earned Waterhouse his election as an Associate of the Royal Academy.

Prudentius says that the body of St Eulalia was shrouded by a miraculous fall of snow when lying exposed in the forum after her martyrdom.

Saint Joan

Study for The Lady Clare

Sweet Summer

This painting was auctioned for £265,500 at Sothebys (London) in June 1998. The following text is taken from their catalogue:

'This lovely painting of a girl lying on a lawn beside a pool is of the loosely classical but essentially subjectless type that John William Waterhouse, along with other Romantic artists of his generation, turned to in the early years of the present century. The ancient world is suggested to the spectator by the fountain - which consists of lion heads from the mouth of each of which a jet of water flows - and the marble pavement and column bases of a temple, seen at the top edge of the composition. Sweet Summer represents the ongoing Aesthetic tradition, pioneered by artists such as Edward Burne-Jones and Albert Moore in the 1860s. The senses are used to evoke the mood of the model. She is shown holding in her right hand a rose, the scent of which seems to pervade the scene; likewise the plash of water from the fountain fills the air with its gentle sound. Cast down on the grass is a fan, which indicates the warmth and oppressive stillness of a summer's day. In fact the heat is such that the girl has partially removed her dress, exposing her left arm and her breasts, and thus lending a sensuous character to the image. All of these elements of sight, sound and smell seem to contribute to a feeling of distraction and restlessness on the part of the girl, and as her gaze is far away and she is quite unconscious of the spectator, one must assume that the artist has sought to describe the emotions of unfulfilled love.

The Annunciation

In Christianity, the Annunciation is the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive a Son of the Holy Spirit to be called Jesus (Luke 1:26-38).

This picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1914: Summer Exhibition

"Mr Waterhouse does himself full justice with his delicately treated Annunciation..." "It is certain however, from a drawing that this figure was studied from life. The composition of the picture divides it between nature (and super-nature) and architecture, and separates effectively the angel and the Virgin, whose figure is not surprisingly treated with skill and some imagination."

The Awakening of Adonis

In Greek mythology, Adonis was a youth of remarkable beauty, the favourite of the goddess Aphrodite. Traditionally, he was the product of the incestuous love Smyrna (Myrrha) entertained for her own father, the Syrian king Theias. Charmed by his beauty, Aphrodite put the newborn infant Adonis in a box and handed him over to the care of Persephone, the queen of the underworld, who afterward refused to give him up. An appeal was made to Zeus, the king of the gods, who decided that Adonis should spend a third of the year with Persephone and a third with Aphrodite, the remaining third being at his own disposal. Adonis became an enthusiastic hunter, and was killed by a wild boar during the chase. Aphrodite pleaded for his life with Zeus, who allowed Adonis to spend half of each year with her and half in the underworld.

The central idea of the myth is that of the death and resurrection of Adonis, which represent the decay of nature every winter and its revival in spring. He is thus viewed by modern scholars as having originated as an ancient spirit of vegetation. Annual festivals called Adonia were held at Byblos and elsewhere to commemorate Adonis for the purpose of promoting the growth of vegetation and the falling of rain. The name Adonis is believed to be of Phoenician origin (from 'adon, "lord"), Adonis himself being identified with the Babylonian god Tammuz.

The Charmer

Waterhouse paints a young woman charming the fish in the water below her with music from her lyre. In Greek mythology, the lyre is associated with Apollo, son of the god Zeus.

The Crystal Ball

The Enchanted Garden

This was one of Waterhouse's final paintings. He left it unfinished at his death.

'He created this haven of warmth in the winter of his life, but almost unwittingly imbued it with a deeper meaning. Past the Dantesque guardian at the entrance, the snow is falling on the steps: it gathers on the entablature above the rounded Renaissance arches which evoke the Italy of his birth, and a few flakes are seen against the shadows of the arcade. But in the garden the roses bloom; one of the girls bends to inhale their scent, and the poppies presage a quiet oblivion. Roses and snow together sum up the duality of desire and restraint in all his work, and because poetry was ever-present in his life, he must also have had Tennyson's Arthur in mind, and 'the island-valley of Avilion, where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow. Nor ever wind blows loudly'.

The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius

Flavius Honorius (born 384, died 423) was Roman Emperor in the West from 393 to 423, a period when much of the Western Empire was overrun by invading tribes and Rome was captured and plundered by the Visigoths. Honorius was one of the weakest of the Roman emperors, and Waterhouse shows him engrossed not in affairs of the empire, but instead with feeding his favourite pet pigeons.

The Household Gods

Also known as 'Offerings to the Gods'.

The 12th of January is dedicated to the Lares, the Roman household goddesses.

The Lady Clare

This painting illustrates the poem The Lady Clare by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Lady Clare
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It was the time when lilies blow,
And clouds are highest up in air.
Lord Ronald brought a lily-white doe
To give his cousin, Lady Clare.

I trow they did not part in scorn:
Lovers long betrothed were they;
They two will wed the morrow morn;
God's blessing on the day!

"He does not love me for my birth
Nor for my lands so broad and fair;
He loves me for my own true worth,
And that is well," said Lady Clare.

In there came old Alice the nurse,
Said, "Who was this that went from thee?"
"It was my cousin," said Lady Clare;
"To-morrow he weds with me."

"Oh, God be thanked!" said Alice the nurse,
"That all comes round so just and fair:
Lord Ronald is heir of all your lands,
And you are not the Lady Clare."

"Are ye out of your mind, my nurse, my nurse,"
Said Lady Clare, "that ye speak so wild?"
"As God's above," said Alice the nurse,
"I speak the truth: you are my child.

The old earl's daughter died at my breast;
I speak the truth, as I live by bread!
I buried her like my own sweet child,
And put my child in her stead."

"Falsely, falsely have ye done,
O mother," she said, "if this be true,
To keep the best man under the sun
So many years from his due."

"Nay now, my child," said Alice the nurse,
"But keep the secret for your life,
And all you have will be Lord Ronald's,
When you are man and wife."

"If I'm a beggar born," she said
"I will speak out, for I dare not lie,
Pull off, pull off the brooch of gold,
And fling the diamond necklace by."

"Nay now, my child," said Alice the nurse,
"But keep the secret all you can."
She said, "Not so; but I will know
If there be any faith in man."

"Nay now, what faith?" said Alice the nurse,
"The man will cleave unto his right."
"And he shall have it," the lady replied,
"Though I should die to-night."

"Yet give one kiss to your mother, dear!
Alas, my child! I sinned for thee."
"O mother, mother, mother," she said,
"So strange it seems to me!

"Yet here's a kiss for my mother dear,
My mother dear, if this be so,
And lay your hand upon my head,
And bless me, mother, ere I go."

She clad herself in a russen gown,
She was no longer Lady Clare:
She went by dale, and she went by down,
With a single rose in her hair.

The lily-white doe Lord Ronald had brought
Leapt up from where she lay.
Dropped her head in the maiden's hand.
And followed her all the way.

Down stepped Lord Ronald from his tower:
"O Lady Clare, you shame your worth!
Why come you dressed like a village maid,
That are the flower of the earth?"

"If I come dressed like a village maid,
I am but as my fortunes are:
I am a begger born," she said,
"And not the Lady Clare."

"Play me no tricks," said Lord Ronald,
"For I am yours in word and in deed;
Play me no tricks," said Lord Ronald,
"Your riddle is hard to read."

Oh, and proudly stood she up!
Her heart within her did not fail:
She looked into Lord Ronald's eyes,
And told him all her nurse's tale.

He laughed a laugh of merry scorn:
He turned and kissed her where she stood;
"If you are not the heiress born,
And I," said he, "the next in blood--

"If you are not the heiress born,
And I," said he, "the lawful heir,
We two will wed to-morrow morn,
And you shall still be Lady Clare."

The Lady of Shallot

"Tennyson's heroine is working, embowered within the "four gray walls" on the silent isle of the river that flows down to "fatal Camelot." She sits solitary, weaving her magic web by night and day. In the mirror at her back the landscape, the sunshine, and the busy river are reflected. To her left is a quaint oratory with statuettes of the Virgin and Child, lit up with the pale light of tapers. Silken balls and worsted strands are littered in her lap and on the floor. It is the moment when Sir Lancelot rides along the riverside in burnished armour. As she looks down to Camelot, and the curse comes upon her, the mirror cracks, the loom breaks up in ruin, and all the work is undone."

The painting illustrates lines from the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

"She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott."

The Magic Circle

"A magic circle was cast to purify and create a perimeter of space wherein evil magic could not enter. Goddesses and good spirits were invited into the circle, which sometimes had powerful, protective stones placed at North, South, East, and West points. Each point was associated with the Four Elements. North was the most powerful direction. It represented the element of Earth, the celestial bodies revolving around the North Star, and encompassed all secrets, darkness, and the unknown. South was the element of Fire and therefore associated with the sun. This point signified the meeting of East and West - intuition, insight, reason, and logic - and the channeling of the powers of intellect, clairvoyance, and nature. East was the direction for the element of Air, symbolizing clarity, spiritual awareness, and mysticism. West represented imagination and inspiration, as well as emotions and reason. The circle itself was a mark of infinity and eternity.

A witch would cast a magic circle by turning clockwise, beginning at East, following the revolution of the sun. The magic circle was drawn with either a a magic wand or an anthame (a black-handled ceremonial dagger). A charm or spell was recited as the witch cast the circle, asking the presence of friendly or helpful spirits to attend."

Quoted from 'Witches: A Book of Magic and Wisdom'

The Necklace Study

The Orange Gatherers

Remorse of Nero of Murdering His Mother

Nero was the fifth Roman emperor (AD 54-68), stepson and heir of the emperor Claudius. He became infamous for his personal debaucheries and extravagances and, on doubtful evidence, for his burning of Rome and persecutions of Christians.

The Rose Bower

The Siren

Waterhouse paints a Siren gazing regretfully at the drowning sailor she has drawn to his doom through her beautiful music.

'The sea-nymphs chant their accents shrill;
And the Sirens, taught to kill
With their sweet voice,
Make every echoing rock reply,
Unto their gentle murmuring noise'.

Thomas Campion (1567-1620), 'In Praise of Neptune'

A siren in Greek mythology was a creature half bird and half woman who lured sailors to destruction by the sweetness of her song. According to Homer there were two Sirens on an island in the western sea between Aeaea and the rocks of Scylla. Later the number was usually increased to three, and they were located on the west coast of Italy, near Naples. They were variously said to be the daughters of the sea god Phorcys or of the river god Achelous.

The Greek hero Odysseus (English: Ulysses), advised by the sorceress Circe, escaped the danger of their song by stopping the ears of his crew with wax so that they were deaf to the Sirens; yet he was able to hear the music and had himself tied to the mast so that he could not steer the ship out of course. Another story relates that when the Argonauts sailed that way, Orpheus sang so divinely that none of them listened to the Sirens. In later legend, after one or other of these failures the Sirens committed suicide. In art they appeared first as birds with the heads of women, later as women, sometimes winged, with bird legs.

The Sirens seem to have evolved from a primitive tale of the perils of early exploration combined with an Oriental image of a bird-woman. Anthropologists explain the Oriental image as a soul-bird--i.e., a winged ghost that stole the living to share its fate. In that respect the Sirens had affinities with the Harpies.

The Sorceress


Thisbe, a maiden of Babylon, was forbidden by her parents to marry her beloved Pyramus. The two lovers defied their families by exchanging vows through a chink in the wall which divided their houses, and plotted to elope together, fixing upon a white mulberry bush at the tomb of Ninus as the appointed spot. Arriving at the site, Thisbe was surprised by a lioness, fresh from the kill, and, in her haste to escape into a nearby cave, let slip her veil. The lioness mauled the veil, coating it with the blood of her prey. On his arrival, Pyramus discovered the cloth and believing it to be stained with the blood of his love, stabbed himself through the heart. Thisbe, coming out from hiding, found Pyramus' body and overcome with grief, threw herself upon his sword. Their mingled blood seeped into the ground and turned the fruit of the mulberry tree black as a sign of mourning for them.

Tristan and Isolde Sharing the Potion

Isolde, Princess of Ireland, has been entrusted to the care of Tristram, the nephew of the king of Cornwall, to take her safely to Cornwall to marry the king. However, Tristram loves Isolde himself and Isolde loves him in return. Tristram and Isolde decide to die together rather then be separated and choose to drink a poison. However, unbeknownst to them the poison was switched for a love potion. After they both drink it they fall even more madly in love and run off together into the forest. Tristram (Tristan) and Isolde, is a legend depicted in many Victorian paintings.

Waterhouse captures the two lovers together on the boat just before drinking the potion, thinking they are about to die. The desperation in Isolde's face can be clearly seen as she clutches the goblet with both hands. In Tristram we see a distinct look of resignation as he accepts it. Waterhouse also points out the separation that has been forced between them. They stand on either side of the painting with the cup and the bottle of potion between them. On Tristram's side lies his helmet and sword with a rope coiled underneath. In the background the castle can be seen illustrating a tie to his duty in bringing Isolde safely to the king. On Isolde's side sits a throne like chair symbolizing her duty to marry the king once she gets there. Also, there is a very distinct line representing a plank which runs between them, directly under the goblet, further emphasizing their separation. As Tristram accepts the cup his foot "steps over the line", foreshadowing that the separation between them is about to end.

Waterhouse painted a second version of this painting entitled Tristram and Isolde, which has the bottle of potion behind Tristram and less of the castle visible. There is also a crown on Isolde's head and a book which lies open at her feet. The edge of the plank separating the two is even more pronounced with Isolde actually appearing to be slightly elevated.

Two Little Italian Girls by a Village

Ulysses and the Sirens

Ulysses and the Sirens originates from Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. Ulysses, knowing of the sirens' musical way of entrancing sailors to come to them, only so that they can kill them, orders all his men to cover their ears as not to be carried away by the sirens beautiful song. Ulysses himself, wanting to hear, tells his men to tie him to the mast and not to release him no matter what he tells them. When the ship approaches the sirens' island, their song floats across the water. Ulysses is overtaken by it and struggles desperately, begging his men to release him.

Waterhouse uses this myth to create an inspirational and compelling composition. The Sirens, as birds, flock around the ship singing with their melodic voices, the men gazing at them with awe. Ulysses himself, arms and legs tense, leans towards the mythical creatures with curious longing. The ship itself is beautifully designed with the oars protruding out of lions' heads on the sides, deep rich red sails, and its arching prow. On either side of the ship, the tall mountains force them down their path.

Unwelcome Companion



Waterhouse painted a series of paintings showing girls in windswept landscapes. Other examples are the recently rediscovered Boreas, and the currently unlocated March Winds.

Flower Picker

Source: Art Renewal Center

This page is the work of Senex Magister

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