Sunday, February 15, 2009

John William Waterhouse

This image from Waterhouse illustrates the story of "St. Eulalia". Not being familiar with this story, I googled it and apparently it is the story of a young virgin who was beat, tortured and eventually crucified for not renouncing Christianity. As the story goes, she was finally decapitated and a dove fly from her neck. Analyzing Waterhouse's treatment of the central figure, it is obvious that he did not intend to illustrate the horror of this girl's tribulations, but rather decided to depict the "aloneness" of her situation. You see the girl centrally located in the foreground, surrounded by a mass of white which brings your attention to her, yet all the other figures in the piece are removed from her, being either held at bay by the roman guards or having the guards themselves disregarding this site. Doves has been added as details being the only living things sharing her space in the frame. I also noticed the positioning of her legs which seemed odd to me at first. I think this was done for two reasons. One, if they were postioned straight, a symmetry would have been create which creates more stability and less drama. Also, having her feet point towards the people would have connected her to them and diminish the the feeling of solitariness. Therefore, I have learned from this picture that figure positioning itself can be used as a tool to create drama.


  1. You are doing such interesting analysis (analysisis? analysese? analysis's? whatever is the plural!) of these paintings Mark. Waterhouse is one of my favorites. Each of his paintings feel like they contain a novel's worth of information - like there is a much larger and complex story involved. I love them.

  2. I agree with Tara. I am actually in utter depression because I can't find my big, sexy, beautiful Waterhouse book... sigh. This painting in particular stands clear in my mind because I remember Donato mention this painting as his "eye opener" to Waterhouse when he saw it in person. Since you mention her legs, the curious thing about it for me is that her legs are side by side. When I initially saw this painting I didn't realize that, and thought her legs were just spread. But at a society lecture Donato gave, and I believe he mentioned it at IMC, he pointed out that her legs are side by side and that the cloth on the right is placed there to balance the symmetry of the figure. That totally changed everything for me and created a much stronger leading line when I noticed that her legs were indeed next to each other. Oh those clever artists. They'll getcha!