John William Waterhouse Biography | Oil Paintings
1-16-1849 Rome, ITA - 2-10-1917 London, ENGBack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
An English painter, John William Waterhouse's dreamy mythological paintings represent one of the last flowerings of Romanticism in Britain. Born in Rome, the son of a minor artist, Waterhouse moved to England with his family in 1854. His early childhood in Italy has been cited by critics and art historians as one of the reasons why many of his later oil paintings were set in ancient Rome or based upon scenes taken from Roman mythology, but the family moved to England in 1854, he was five years old, so we think this is an unacceptable reason.
He trained at the Royal Academy Schools and began exhibiting there in 1874. He painted in a traditional academic vein, specializing in decorative, classical themes, which recall the works of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederick Leighton. By the late 1880's, elements of Symbolism and Plein-air painting began to enter into his work.
The pivotal work in John William Waterhouse's career was The Lady of Shalott, a study of Elaine of Astolat, who dies of grief when Lancelot will not love her. Painted in 1888, this was a Pre-Rapaelite subject, the kind of theme which he favored in later years. The style, however, was more modern. The landscape background, in particular, displayed a freshness and a robust handling, which underlines Waterhouse's links with the Newlyn School and his debt to European, plein-air painting.
During the same period, John William Waterhouse also began to paint sirens, mermaids and other femmes fatal, drawing his inspiration from the French Symbolists. To receive his diploma from the Royal Academy, he submitted his Ophelia painting of 1888 (he would paint Ophelia again in 1894 and 1909).
It is impossible to find anything about what happened to the painting or how it was lost? Everyone says it was lost until the twentieth century, whatever that means. It was not lost, when Waterhouse died in 1917, his widow Esther Kenworthy Waterhouse, boxed all his remaining paintings, including Ophelia, so it was never seen in public until her death in 1944. Not until after the War, was an inventory done of his and her works, she also is an artist.
John William Waterhouse is one of the rare artists who became popular and well-off when he was alive. He continued to paint until his death. Ophelia was sold at auction in 2001 for US$2.9 million and is now displayed in Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber's art collection.
Art Movement History: Pre-Raphaelite, Symbolism.
Artists Influencing John Waterhouse: Frederic Leighton, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Edward Burne-Jones.
He Traveled To France, England, Italy.
Artist Biography compiled by Albert L. Mansour at The World's Artist.