John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
John William Waterhouse was born in Rome in 1849,
where his parents, both of whom were painters, had lived for years. His classical learning contributed to his later
talents as a painter. When the family returned to England, Waterhouse studied first at his father's studio,
then at the Royal Academy Schools from 1870. His early paintings were in the classical style featuring scenes
from every day life and later poetical subjects from Tennyson and Homer. Waterhouse became ARA in 1885.
During this period, it is believed that Waterhouse used friends and family members as models. It is
believed that Waterhouse's step-sister Mary Waterhouse Somerville was the model for
The Lady of Shalott (1888).
Sometime around 1891, Waterhouse's painting took on a more pre-Raphaelite model with the
depiction of the femme fatale in numerous settings. Some claim that he discovered a beautiful model who is
featured in most of his important pictures after that date. Her name is not known with any surety and there
is much speculation as to her identity, but he may have identified her himself in an inscription as Muriel Foster.
His reputation increased and he became RA in 1895. Waterhouse's most productive years were spent
at his Primrose Hill Studios in London.
Another "mysterious" potential model unknown until recently has been tentatively
identified as Beatrice Flaxman. The dark red-headed model may have begun sitting for Waterhouse in the early
1900's and more likely by 1906. It is believed that she was Waterhouse's model for many paintings
including 'I am Half-Sick of Shadows', said The Lady of Shalott (1915) provided here.
There continues to be some dispute concerning the models for his works, some writers
claiming a single model (Muriel
Foster) while other claim that a Waterhouse preference for red-haired models has led to most of the
confusion Waterhouse students into believing Foster was Waterhouse's only model after the turn of the century.
His somewhat neglected grave can be found at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
A portrait of Waterhouse by Alma Tadema is in the National Portrait Gallery.
The photo of him above is from 1909.
Work in the Artists' Section