Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Episode 74: John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse was born April 6, 1849 in Rome, Italy where his father worked as a painter. In 1870 when his family returned to England John enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art where his early work in the classical genre was a great success. 

Later, Waterhouse became inspired by the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which had disbanded many years before. He was also inspired by the Impressionists, although their influences isn't as clearly visible as the PRB. 

One of his favorite subjects was "The Lady of Shalott" from Sir Alfred Lord Tenneson's poem, a subject that was also very popular with the PRB.  Waterhouse painted three versions, the first in 1888 the second in 1894 and the third in 1916.

Waterhouse, Lady of Shalott, 1888

 This version is the most famous of Waterhouses' three works on the Lady of Shalott. In this version she has already looked out the window and set eyes on Lancelot, and is in the boat on the way to her death.

Waterhouse, Lady of Shalott, 1894
In this version you can see the mirror behind her and her weaving wrapped around her legs as though she has stood up to walk toward the window to look at Lancelot. You can see his reflection in the mirror.

Waterhouse, I am half sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott, 1916

This final version shows the Lady sitting at her loom, the mirror reflecting the outside world.

Another topic Waterhouse liked to paint was Ophelia from Hamlet. In his most famous version painted in 1894 Ophelia is sitting on the branch of a willow tree over a river. In the play the branch snaps and Ophelia falls in the river and drowns. Ophelia is always associated with flowers. Here are some flower meanings from Hamlet.

Rosemary: To remember, faithfulness
Pansy: thoughts, faithfulness
Fennel: flattery
Columbine: male adultery, ingratitude, faithlessness, and Emblem of Deceived lovers
English Daisy: Innocence

Waterhouse, Ophelia, 1894
Waterhouse, Ophelia, 1889
Waterhouse, Ophelia, 1910

Some of Waterhouse's early work:

Waterhouse, After the Dance, 1876
Waterhouse, Sleep and his Half-brother Death, 1874

In 1887 an illustrated weekly magazine called The Graphic commissioned an art exhibition of twenty-one Shakespeare heroines. Waterhouse submitted his painting of Cleopatra.

In the Victorian era demure modesty was highly prized in women. How shocking the portrait of Cleopatra must have been! She is depicted as a strong, unashamed woman, a powerful woman and perhaps a femme fatale.

The painting sold for 60 guineas in 1889, the equivalent of about 60 pounds today and then the painting disappeared. More than a century later it was found in a cabin in Colorado and subsequently went to auction in 2003. It did not meet the reserve of 300 to 500 thousand pounds.
Waterhouse, Cleopatra, 1888

There are many legends concerning the death of Orpheus, but Waterhouse chose to represent the myth of Orpheus' head being chopped off and floating down to the Lesbos shore where the inhabitants found it, still singing mournful songs, and buried it then building a shrine in his honor.

Waterhouse, Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, 1900

Come back next week to listen to Chloe and Jo talk about Michelangelo! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you have topics in art history you're just itching to hear more about, leave us a comment or email us at: uvu.artsandfacts@gmail.com.