The Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood and John Waterhouse have always been favorites of mine. Is it the intense colors and the natural world expressed with a wild, exotic realism? Is it because the characters from classical stories manifest from script into the definitive definition of Western Civilization’s concept of beauty? Is it the erotic undertones steaming out of the eyes of the femme fatale within a Victorian prim and proper world? The esthete in me is drawn to the stories in the faces. I pretend I am she and wonder about the possibilities. The contrast of languorous positions and unblemished bodies with repressed emotions sizzle in those bewitching eyes.
The mermaid positioned before a natural doorway sits on a rock. Who is she looking at? It is he!
A Mermaid, 1900
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda challenges her father, Prospero, to save the sailors. The chaste, innocent daughter looks for her mate.
Miranda–The Tempest, 1916
“Had I been any god of power, I would/Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere/It should the good ship so have swallow’d and/The fraughting souls within her.” Act I, Scene II. 10-13
Ulysses and the Sirens, 1891
Odysseus (Ulysses) orders his men to stuff their ears with wax and tie him to a mast so he can’t escape, but he can still hear the intoxicating sirens singing. They are beautiful women-birds, and men are their prey. Here is the irrepressible seduction of the female portrayed throughout time. The manipulating emasculator. Beware!
She is the daughter to the Greek god of the North Wind. The insecure, tumultuous side of love. Does he love me or not?
The Lady of Shallot, 1888
“Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.”
The famous heroine in A. L. Tennyson’s poem is about a woman looking for her Lancelot. Considering the candles and the tapestries, she prepares for a long wait. Her knight will appear. Just around the next bend. Hope! Nope. Cursed, she dies. Love is tragedy, too.
The Annunciation, 1914
Here’s Mary, who received the news from the angel Gabriel. Me? OMG! Motherly love. Unconditional.
The Crystal Ball, 1902
Is this real? Or am I dreaming? How do I know?
La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1893
In John Keats’s poem, the elf entraps her knight and corrals him with her other conquests.
The hopeless romantic in me sees in these faces the expressions of love. The founder of the Pre-Raphelites Brotherhood was Danti Gabriel Rossetti and he dabbled from poetry to painting all his life. His sister was a fine poet and her poem below entitled, “The Birthday” captures romantic love. These are the words I imagine in Waterhouse faces. Joy, bewilderment, and despair. Waterhouse captures love on canvas better than anyone.