Monday, September 30, 2013

Waterhouse, John William

Ophelia (Lying in the Meadow)
oil on canvas
157.5 x 97.8 cm
private collection

John William Waterhouse (1849 - 1917) was an English painter of classical, historical, and literary subjects, known for working in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He worked several decades after the breakup of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which had seen its heyday in the mid-nineteenth century, leading him to have gained the moniker of "the modern Pre-Raphaelite". Borrowing stylistic influences not only from the earlier Pre-Raphaelites but also from his contemporaries, the Impressionists, his artworks were known for their depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.

He was born in the city of Rome to the British painters in 1849, in the same year that the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, were first causing a stir in the London art scene. His early life in Italy has been cited as one of the reasons why many of his later paintings were set in ancient Rome or based upon scenes taken from Roman mythology.

In 1854, he returned to England and he, coming from an artistic family, was encouraged to get involved in drawing. He often sketched artworks that he found in the British Museum and the National Gallery. In 1871 he entered the Royal Academy of Art school, initially to study sculpture, before moving on to painting.

His early works were not Pre-Raphaelite in nature, but were of classical themes. He went from strength to strength in the London art scene, with his 1876 piece After the Dance being given the prime position in that year's summer exhibition. One of his favorite subjects was Ophelia. He may have been inspired by paintings of Ophelia by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. Perhaps due to his success, his paintings typically became larger and larger in size. In 1895 he 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.

He was gravely ill with cancer and died two years later, and his grave can be found at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. He and his wife did not have any children. His wife outlived her husband by 27 years, passing away in 1944 at a nursing home. Today, she is buried alongside her husband.