The Lady of Shalott (1894), by J.W. Waterhouse

    Just like with the previous painting of Ophelia, Waterhouse returned again to an old subject.  With The Lady of Shalott, he painted a different episode from the poem by Tennyson (see the blog on the 1888 version for the complete text of the poem).

    Here the Lady has taken the decision to disobey the curse and go into the open to look for her beloved Knight Lancelot.  Yet a golden thread is bound around her legs, symbolizing that she cannot escape from her fate.  The model he used is clearly the same as that for Circe.  There is a lot of speculation about who Waterhouse’s models were.  Besides one scribbled address on an envelope, no names are sure. On YouTube you can find a nice series on this subject: . Highly recommended!

    Saint Cecilia (1895), by J.W. Waterhouse

    The fascination that Waterhouse had with women in poetry, persisted in this painting of Saint Cecilia.  The scene is based on the following strophe:

    “In a clear walled city on the sea, Near gilded organ pipes … slept Saint Cecily.”

    It originates from Tennyson’s poem “The Palace of Art” (first published in 1832, revised in 1842).

    The beautifully illustrated songbook on her lap, the scenery with many flowers and the two angels appearing in her sleep, create a very romantic and peaceful atmosphere.  This, together with the extensive use of bright colours, makes it very much a Pre-Raphaelite painting.  It was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2008.

    The Shrine (1895), by J.W. Waterhouse

    With this painting (top) Waterhouse returned to an old theme, which he last painted in 1890 (A Roman Offering, bottom).  The stairs, flowers, a young woman – most traditional ingredients are there.  Only the doves are absent …

    The Victorian dress is sometimes referred to as an anachronism, but in fact there is no suggestion that Waterhouse wanted to paint a Roman scene.  It can just as well be a garden in Victorian times.  Waterhouse has often tried to paint the five senses. Here he is particularly successful with the sense of smell.

    Hylas and the Nymphs (1896), by J.W. Waterhouse

    Hylas is a character from Greek and Roman mythology as recorded in the Metamorphoses by the poet Ovidius.  Whereas in 1893, Waterhouse painted only one nymph approaching the sleeping Hylas, we see here a group of seven water nymphs (naiads) surprising Hylas when he is filling his jar with water from the pond.  The nymphs all have very similar faces to stress that they are no ordinary human beings. Their erotic desire makes them lure Hylas into the pond where he will drown.  Waterhouse had a fascination for strong, but fatal women associated with water. One can only guess what this is based on.

    In 2018, this painting attracted a lot of media attention when the Manchester Art Gallery moved it out of public display as a move “against the objectification and exploitation of women”.  After a storm of protests against this form of censorship, the Manchester City Council ordered that the painting should be moved back in its original position.