J.W. Waterhouse (1849-1917). The Modern Pre-Raphaelite

Largest retrospective of the work of John William Waterhouse

14 December 2008 to 03 May 2009

The Groninger Museum presented the largest retrospective of the art of John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) ever mounted. This exhibition featured 92 paintings, drawings, and sketchbooks, and had been organised in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada. Splendid works will come from public and private collections in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, the United States, Taiwan, and Canada. Few have ever been shown in continental Europe.

J.W. Waterhouse (1849-1917). The Modern Pre-Raphaelite was the first monographic exhibition about Waterhouse to be held since 1978. It is also the first to consider his entire career, demonstrating his engagement with contemporary trends ranging from antiquarianism to mystical spirituality. Particularly significant to Waterhouse were the intense passions celebrated by Homer and Ovid in their retellings of Classical myths, and by John Keats, Alfred Tennyson, and their forerunner William Shakespeare in Romantic verse. Key examples to appear in the exhibition are Circe, Miranda, The Lady of Shalott, Cleopatra, Lamia, Mariamne, Hylas and the Nymphs, and The Magic Circle.

Although Waterhouse’s compelling scenes are admired by millions of people worldwide, the general public knows relatively little about the man himself and his artistic production. Accordingly, the Groninger Museum exhibition will place Waterhouse’s most renowned works in their proper context to illustrate why he is such an important transmitter of the Classical and Romantic traditions. Today Waterhouse can be considered the “Modern Pre-Raphaelite” because he was steeped in the colourful emotionalism of D.G. Rossetti, J.E. Millais, and William Holman Hunt, but also fully aware of the exciting technical innovations occurring in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century. Thus he felt at home equally in the enchanted world of myth, legend, and poetry, and in the new ways of seeing triggered by Impressionism.

Waterhouse’s passion for beauty lives on in the marvellous paintings and drawings he left behind, the most significant of which were on view in the Groninger Museum.

Compilers of the exhibition
Guest curators Peter Trippi (author of the monograph J.W. Waterhouse, dating from 2002, and former director of the Dahesh Museum of Art, New York), Elizabeth Prettejohn (Professor of History of Art, University of Bristol), Robert Upstone (Curator of Modern British Art, Tate Britain), and Patty Wageman (acting Director of the Groninger Museum) were responsible for the composition of the exhibition. Stijn ten Hoeve (Groninger Museum) was the producer.

  • John William Waterhouse: 'Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May’- Private collection