Who was John William Waterhouse?

This website is a tribute to the British painter John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). It aims to be a central repository of information about Waterhouse’s life and work. Waterhouse is best known today for his paintings illustrating literature and mythology (for example, The Lady of Shalott from Arthurian Mythology, and Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet).

Who was John William Waterhouse?


Waterhouse, known to his family and friends as Nino, was born in Italy in 1849 to English parents, moving to London at an early age. His father was an artist and Waterhouse followed in his footsteps.

Read more: [The Library] [Biography]

Artistic Influences

John William Waterhouse Paintings

Waterhouse’s early paintings were influenced by Victorian neo-classicism as practiced by Alma-Tadema, Leighton and Poynter. Later, he came under the spell of the second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism, led by Burne-Jones. By the mid-1880s, he was interested in French plein-air painting √† la Jules Bastien-Lepage. By the early 1890s, Waterhouse had fused all of these influences into his own style: “He painted pre-Raphaelite pictures in a more modern manner. He was, in fact, a kind of academic Burne-Jones, like him in his types and his moods, but with less insistence on design and more on atmosphere.”

Read more: [Browse Paintings] [Selected Poetry]

“A Venice telegram states that the jury of the International Art Exhibition has proclaimed Mr. Walter Crane and Mr. J. W. Waterhouse, R.A., to be of such fame as to be beyond prizes.”
Court Circular, The Times, October 1905.


Almost 180 paintings, studies and drawings by Waterhouse are on display here, along with several previously unpublished photographs of Waterhouse, biographical information, and original articles looking at Waterhouse’s life and work.

The Lady of Shalott 1888

BROWSE SELECTED POETRY including The Lady of Shalott, La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Isabella, or the Pot of Basil.

Contemporary Opinions

Waterhouse was a well-respected and popular artist during his lifetime, and his paintings were bought by wealthy private collectors and by major museums in the United Kingdom and abroad.

Read more: [Contemporary Commentary]

The Waterhouse Models

The Waterhouse Models – William Waterhouse’s wife

Little is known of Waterhouse’s private life–even the identities of his favourite models, who appear so frequently in his paintings, are not known for certain although recent research has suggested possible names.

Read more: [A Waterhouse Letter] [A Waterhouse Sketch Discovered] [The Waterhouse Ideal]

Why this website?

This site originated in the late 1990s as a way to publish and disseminate information about Waterhouse to a wider audience via the internet. Waterhouse’s legacy had been somewhat neglected for most of the 20th century: his art, along with that created by many of his contemporaries, fell rapidly out of fashion as a result of the impact of World War I and the subsequent changes in British society over the ensuing decades. However, in the late 1960s/early 1970s there was a gradual revival of interest in Victorian and Edwardian art which has been sustained to the present day. Waterhouse was honoured with a retrospective exhibition in 1978, and has been the subject of two monographs published within the last five years, the most notable being Peter Trippi’s award-winning J.W. Waterhouse (Phaidon Press, 2002). Nowadays, several of Waterhouse’s paintings, for example The Lady of Shalott (1888) and Ophelia (1894), can be ranked among the most recognizable, and beloved, of 19th century British art. This website aims to publish the latest information relating to John William Waterhouse, and to serve as an introduction to Waterhouse’s life and work.

Read more: [What’s New?] [Further Reading] [About] [Message Board]

“But for us all there is this consolation: that the world has been enriched by his labours and that the pictures he produced remain for our enjoyment and as examples of pure, wholesome, and intellectual art by the study of which we can profit.”
‘The Late J.W. Waterhouse, R.A.’, The Studio, July 1917