Mirrors, water, tapestries reflect the dreams and reveries of doomed women who are often wearily suffering from loss or are washed out with the pain of unrequited love. Some have suffered death and others are just about to. In contrast, the temptress uses the ice cool water to tease and lure men to sexual deviation and almost certain death.
The Waterhouse exhibition tells stories from Greek mythology, the Bible, Shakespeare and Tennyson on an epic scale using vivid and vibrant colours and producing large scale canvasses. The works often focuses on minute detail and are of transience and death alongside comments on art as a narrative tool.
I wrote lots of notes in response to each work, but I don’t want to describe each image here. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition does that well enough. I felt that visiting the exhibition was about experiencing the paintings as if gorging oneself on eating a whole boy of milk chocolates. The paintings, which at times were deeply unfashionable, make vivid a Victorian world excited by the spectacle and promoting itself through an aesthetic that gloried in being British. I walk round the paintings and I marvel at the technical skill, the bravery of the detail, the passion for the subjects, and also the eye for a commercial venture. All the things that make this exhibition fascinating and beguiling.
Review and Previews
Waterhouse at the RA in the Telegraph
Prettijohn Elizabeth (et al). (2009) J.W. Waterhouse. The Modern Pre-Raphaelite Gronigen: Gronigen Museum