John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse was an English artist who began his career in the Academic style before adopting the approach and source material of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.


His paintings were well-known for depicting women from both Greek mythology and Medieval romance. Waterhouse was born in Rome to English parents who were also artists and later came to London to study at the Royal Academy of Art.

He started showcasing at the annual summer exhibits soon after, focusing on creating huge canvas pieces evoking scenes from ancient Greek everyday life and folklore.


Many of his works are inspired by authors like Homer, Ovid, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Keats. Waterhouse's paintings are currently on exhibit in several prominent British art exhibitions, and a notable tribute to his work was shown at the Royal Academy of Art in 2009.


Early Years & Artistic Education

Only little of Waterhouse's writings have survived, thus very little is revealed about his personal life. We know he was born in Rome, where his father worked as a painter, his father moved to England just a few years later, and his father established a studio.

Waterhouse aided him, and as a result, he learned the fundamentals of watercolor, oil painting, and sculpture at a young age. In 1870, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts to study art.

He first debuted with various British Artists in 1872, and then with the Royal Academy in 1874. His early works were primarily traditional and historical, exhibiting the imprint of Alma-Tadema, one of England's most prominent classical artists of the late nineteenth century.

As well as, Frederic Leighton, an artist who depicted classical, ancient, and religious subjects, had an impact on Waterhouse's paintings.

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A Career in the Arts

In 1885, Waterhouse was appointed as a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and in 1895, he was inducted as a permanent member. He was displayed at various galleries around the nation by the mid-1880s, notably at London's Grosvenor Gallery. This resulted in a degree of financial triumph.

He began showing portrait works in the 1880s, as his recognition grew even more and commissions rose. In 1901, he became a member of the St John's Wood Arts Club, which featured George Clausen a multi-talented artist, and Alma-Tadema.

He subsequently sat on an advisory committee, where he counseled up-and-coming artists including Byam Shaw, an Indian-born British artist.  


Style & Technique of John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse was influenced by both Pre-Raphaelite and Classical artists, and his style is easily distinguished from that of other Victorian painters. In his paintings, he used a variety of artistic techniques to achieve both elegance and naturalism.

His paintings include authentic and natural landscapes, and he works primarily in oils.

Waterhouse's obsession with seductive and vixen women's stories is evident within his paintings as he depicts the themes with symbolism, vibrant color combinations, and lovely illumination.

John William Waterhouse's Influence

Several talented painters before him influenced John William Waterhouse, primarily those from the Renaissance and Classical schools who embraced Waterhouse's appreciation of mythology and naturalism works.

Many of Waterhouse's works reflect the Pre-Raphaelite period, to which he belonged. Particularly the Pre-Raphaelite painters' use of brilliant colors and female heroines. The majority of Waterhouse's paintings are based on mythical stories from antiquity or the Middle Ages.

Waterhouse seemed to be intrigued by powerful female charms and wonderful love tales in these works. While his approach is more traditional, Waterhouse's artwork often represents some of the same concepts and subjects as works by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, even though his art is more classical.

The depiction of strong female characters, as well as the usage of historical tales and traditions, is prevalent in Pre-Raphaelite paintings.


Critical Reception of John William Waterhouse

Waterhouse was a tremendously successful and creative painter of his era. He painted nearly 200 works and was well-liked by both the community and his colleagues. Waterhouse was the epitome of the wealthy Victorian painter, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy and the Tate Gallery.

Ironically, the mystical and romantic manner that his art symbolized went out of trend in the twentieth century, and Waterhouse received less recognition after his death. His work, nevertheless, is regaining popularity nowadays and can be found in numerous art galleries across the world. Sir Henry Tate obtained Consulting the Oracle in 1884, and Waterhouse regained his reputation.

Tate would go on to be one of Victorian Britain's most active and well-known buyers of paintings. Thanks to Tate, Waterhouse's legacy lives on today.

Waterhouse's name continued to benefit from having a high-profile patron support his work. In the twentieth century, both the Romantic style and John William Waterhouse's appeal faded again.

New styles of art, such as Impressionism and later Surrealism, supplanted the beautiful women who captivated painters in the nineteenth century. While aesthetics remained significant in the world of art, it was changing, and Waterhouse's naturalism was no longer popular. 


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