The biography of John William Waterhouse (1849 - 1917)

John William Waterhouse (1849 – 1917) was an English Pre-Raphaelite painter most famous for his paintings of female characters from mythology and literature. Early in his career he painted Greek and Roman subjects, but in the 1880s he turned to literary themes, painted in a distinctive, dreamily romantic style. In approach he was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, but his handling of paint is quite different from theirs - rich and sensuous. Although often classified as a Pre-Raphaelite for his style and themes, Waterhouse is truly a Neo-Classic painter.

John William Waterhouse was born in Rome, April 6, 1849, his parents was painters William and Isabela Waterhouse. He was referred to as "Nino" throughout his life. In the 1850s, when he was five the family returned to South Kensington, England, near the newly founded Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1883 he married Esther Kenworthy, the daughter of an art schoolmaster from Ealing. They had two children, but both died in childhood.

Before entering the Royal Academy schools in 1870, Waterhouse assisted his father in his studio. His early works were of classical themes in the spirit of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederick Leighton, and were exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Society of British Artists and the Dudley Gallery.

In 1874, at the age of twenty-five, Waterhouse paints the classical allegory Sleep and his Half-Brother Death. The first of his paintings was exhibited at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. The painting was very well received. He was elected an ARA in 1885 the year of one of his best paintings St Eulalia and he exhibited at the RA almost every year afterwards until his death in 1917. He taught at the St. John's Wood Art School, joined the St John's Wood Arts Club, and served on the Royal Academy Council.

The Magic Circle, painted in 1886 which was purchased for the Chantry Bequest Collection, and The Lady of Shalott, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1888 were others of his most popular works. He actually painted three different versions of this character, in 1888, 1896, and 1916.

Another of Waterhouse's favorite subjects was Ophelia; the most famous of his paintings of Ophelia depicts her just before her death, putting flowers in her hair as she sits on a tree branch leaning over a lake. He also may have been inspired by paintings of Ophelia by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. The painting was lost until the 20th century, and is now displayed in the collection of Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Waterhouse would paint Ophelia again in 1894 and 1909 or 1910. He could not finish the series of Ophelia paintings because he was gravely ill with cancer by 1915. He died two years later in his 68th year, February 10, 1917. His grave can be found at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Waterhouse is one of the rare artists who became popular and relatively well-off financially when he was alive. His style became a major influence on many of the later Pre-raphaelites including Frank Dicksee and Herber James Draper.

Today, many of his works are in private collections or somewhere unknown. Most of his famous paintings can be found scattered all over England. Among these is The Lady of Shalott, which can be found in London; Hylas and the Nymphs - at Manchester City Art Gallery, and Echo and Narcissus - at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. His other famous works can be found around the world including Germany (La Belle Dam Sans Mercie), Scotland (Penelope and the Suitors), and Australia (Circe Invidiosa).