John Waterhouse or The Many Faces of A Woman in Love

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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!

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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.

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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

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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!

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Boreas, 1903

She is the daughter to the Greek god of the North Wind. The insecure, tumultuous side of love. Does he love me or not?

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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.

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The Annunciation, 1914

Here’s Mary, who received the news from the angel Gabriel. Me? OMG! Motherly love. Unconditional.

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The Crystal Ball, 1902

Is this real? Or am I dreaming? How do I know?

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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.

Christina Rossetti,  1830-1894
“The Birthday”
My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.
Mon Tresor, Je T’aime!

10 thoughts on “John Waterhouse or The Many Faces of A Woman in Love

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  1. This is a great post!! I’ve been yearning to go to our art museum here in Detroit since the start of the year, but today you’ve brought the museum me. You bring to my attention one of the many reasons I love going to the museum. Looking at pieces of art and wondering what the characters could be thinking or what they have their eyes fixed on and sometimes making up my own little stories based on what I see. It’s always great to find out little tidbits of information about the background on a piece of art. Fun stuff.

    1. Thanks for dropping by! HHHmmm. Detroit. I believe there is a great Diego Rivera in the Detroit museum. I would love to visit him. I love the stories around the paintings and love to imagine the stories. Do you write creatively?

    1. Yes, these are my favorites of his. The poem “Lady of Shallot” by Tennyson is one of my favorite Victorian poets and I appreciate Waterhouse for bringing to life the classics….So glad you stopped by!

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