John William Waterhouse was an English painter known for his work in the Academic style and later the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's style and subject matter. Inspired by strong and stunning female figures, his artwork mostly consists of depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend. He was born in Rome to English parents, both of whom were painters. He later moved to London, where he studied at the Royal Academy of Art. He started exhibiting at their annual summer exhibitions. He gained great fame and popularity when his painting ‘Consulting the Oracle’ was purchased by Sir Henry Tate. His work can be currently found at several major British art galleries as well as the Royal Academy of Art, which had organized a major retrospective of his work in 2009, many years after his death.
Despite the fact that John William Waterhouse is best remembered as a Pre-Raphaelite artist, he did not start his career as one. His early works were based on classical themes, primarily in the spirit of Alma-Tadema and Frederic Leighton. The initial works of his career were exhibited at the Dudley Gallery and the Society of British Artists. His painting ‘Sleep and his Half-brother Death’, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1874, earned him success and popularity. It was exhibited at the annual exhibition every year till 1916. He is known to have created more than 200 paintings in his lifetime.
Waterhouse also taught at the St John’s Wood Art School and was part of the St John’s Wood Arts Club. He served on the Royal Academy Council as well.
He was inspired by two major artists of his time: Sir Frederic Lord Leighton and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. John William Waterhouse was known for his unique style of painting classical as well as mythical scenes. He had an eye for natural beauty and beautiful female figures. He painted several portraits of some of the era’s most famous women.
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John William Waterhouse’s well-known paintings in the early 1870s include ‘The Unwelcome Companion: A Street Scene in Cairo’, which was completed in 1873, and exhibited at the gallery of the Society of British Artists. He then painted ‘In the Peristyle’ in 1874, ‘Miranda’ in 1875, and ‘A Sick Child brought into the Temple of Aesculapius’ in 1877.
His works in the 1880s include ‘Diogenes’ in 1882, ‘Consulting the Oracle’ in 1884, ‘The Magic Circle’ in 1886, and ‘Cleopatra’ in 1888. ‘Consulting the Oracle’ was bought by Sir Henry Tate in 1886, bringing Waterhouse a lot of fame and appreciation. In the 1890s, he painted ‘Danae’ in 1892, ‘Circle Invidiosa’ in 1892, and ‘Saint Cecilia’ in 1895. He also created several works in the 20th century, some of them being ‘Echo and Narcissus’ in 1903, ‘Jason and Medea’ in 1907, ‘Ophelia’ in 1910, and ‘Miranda--The Tempest’ in 1916.
Family & Personal Life
John William Waterhouse got married to Esther Kenworthy in 1883. She was the daughter of an art schoolmaster from Ealing. An artist herself, she used to exhibit her own paintings of flowers at the Royal Academy and other places.
The Ophelia paintings were meant to be a series but remained unfinished as John William Waterhouse became seriously ill with cancer. After suffering for a few years, he passed away in 1917. His grave is located at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.