Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Art of J.W. Waterhouse...

("Saint Cecelia", c. 1895)
John William Waterhouse has been one of my favorite painters since I first laid eyes on one of his paintings many years ago.  Even if someone doesn't know his name, they most definitely know his work.  Although some describe him as being "loosely associated" with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, the color, subject matter, mood, and life he injected into each painting more than qualifies him. Some also describe him as being part of the Romanticism movement, and the Neoclassical movement .

(J.W. Waterhouse)
Known as "Nino" for the better part of his life, Waterhouse was born in Rome, Italy, in 1849. His father worked as a painter there.  In the 1850's, the family would return to England.  Nino assisted his father, and would develop a great interest in painting.  In 1870, he entered the Royal Academy Schools.  Some of his early inspirations were the paintings of Alma Tadema (Romanticism), and Leighton (Academicism).

His main medium of choice was oil paints, but he also worked in watercolors.  His interest in the Pre-Raphaelites grew.  (I have included a couple of links at the bottom of this post to sites that explain the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and give a list of painters and their work.)  His main subject matters were the strong and/or tragic femme fatale, and "plein-air" painting (French for "in the open air").

(Left: "Pottery Painting", Lawrence Alma Tadema, c. 1871;
Right: "Flaming June", Frederic Leighton, c. 1895)
Waterhouses' history with the Royal Academy spanned many years. The accounts/bios I read differed slightly as to what happened what year, but not by much. He was elected as an associate in the early 1880's, becoming a full member in 1895.  

His Royal Academy diploma work was the painting "A Mermaid", but it wouldn't be completed until 1900.  Waterhouse offered up his 1889 painting "Ophelia" as a temporary substitution (look below for the trio of "Ophelia" paintings). Interestingly, "Ophelia" was lost for the better part of the 20th Century, but is now a part of the Lord Lloyd Webber collection.

("A Mermaid", c. 1900)
Some life bullet points:  He began exhibiting his paintings in the mid-1800's, throughout England and abroad.  In the 1890's he started exhibiting portraits.  In 1900, he offered up some of his work to be auctioned as a contribution to the Artist's War Fund.  In 1901 he moved to St. John's Wood, where he joined the Arts Club, a social organization that included such painters as Alma Tadema.  

The last 10 years or so of his life he was quite ill.  Cancer made him increasingly frail.  However, it didn't keep him from continuing to paint until his death in 1917.  That period produced a series of paintings based on the "Persephone" legend, and the mythological piece "Tristram and Isolde".

At the time of his death, his one final work "The Enchanted Garden", was left unfinished on his easel. (Scroll down the page a bit for the painting.) The Royal Academy exhibited it upon his death.  It is now part of the Lady Lever Art Gallery collection, in Liverpool, England. 

His wife, Esther Kenworthy, whom he married in 1883, would survive him, living another 27 years.  They had no children.  The photograph of the grave is that of Waterhouse.  It can be found at Kensal Green Cemetery in north-west London.  
(Top:  "Consulting The Oracle", c. 1884;
Bottom left:  "The Crystal Ball", c. 1902; Bottom right:  "The Magic Circle", c. 1886)
One of the main focuses for me in looking up biographical info on Waterhouse, was any personal information.    If he had any specific interests away from his painting.  More specifically, what were his spiritual or metaphysical views? More than a few of his works have the flavor of mysticism.  I'm curious as to what that stems from.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything online.  The sites I visited said that there really isn't any personal history on him.  It appears that my mystery will remain unsolved.

The above photo is of Waterhouse in his studio at 10 Hall Road, St. John's Wood, London.  He is working on the 1909 version of "Lamia", which is pictured on the right.

The photograph is of Mary Waterhouse, Nino's half sister.  She is said to be his model for the well known painting, "The Lady Of Shalott", c. 1888.

(Top left:  "Ophelia", c. 1910;  Top right:  "Ophelia", c. 1894;
Bottom:  "Ophelia", c. 1889)
("The Enchanted Garden", c. 1917 ~ his last work)

I have included quite a few paintings in this post because it was difficult to choose one over another.  Waterhouses' paintings are so involving.  They really pull you into the world created.

The remaining paintings below appear...just because...  They are all so beautiful.
(Left:  "Tristram and Isolde", c. 1916; Right:  "Miranda", c. 1916)
(Left:  "Circe Invidiosa", c. 1892; Top right:  "The Charmer", c.  1911;  Bottom right:  "Boreas", c.  1903)  
("The Mystic Wood",  couldn't find a year for this one)
(Left:  "Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden", c.  1903;  Right:  "The Soul of The Rose",  c.  1908)

LINKS for Pre-Raphaelite information:

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