From October 1, 2009, to February 7, 2010, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
will host the largest-ever retrospective of works by the celebrated British artist John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). J. W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite is the first large-scale monographic exhibition on Waterhouses work since 1978 and the first to feature his entire artistic career. This retrospective features some eighty paintings that are among the finest and most spectacular of the artists production, on loan from public and private collections in Australia, England, Ireland, Taiwan, the United States and Canada. It will also present many of the artists attractive studies in oil, chalk and pencil. Several of these works have not been exhibited since Waterhouses lifetime. The exhibitionhas been organized by the Groninger Museum, the Netherlands, with the collaboration of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition, which premiered at the Groninger Museum, will also be presented at the Royal Academy of Arts (June 27 to September 13, 2009), and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (October 1, 2009, to February 7, 2010).
Often associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, who aimed to recapture the beauty and simplicity of the medieval world, Waterhouse was also a classical painter. The exhibition will show how Waterhouses paintings reflect his engagement with contemporary themes like medievalism, classical heritage, spiritualism and the femme fatale. Born the year the Pre-Raphaelites first exhibited at the Royal Academy, he inherited their taste for Alfred Tennyson, John Keats and William Shakespeare and was fascinated by beauty, the underworld and myths of enchantresses. His paintings reveal a romantic fascination for female passions: among his subjects are the Lady of Shalott, Ophelia, Ariadne, Cleopatra, Circe, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Lamia, the Sirens tormenting Ulysses, and Mariamne condemned to death. Inspired by literature and Greek mythology, he also drew from classical myth as interpreted by Homer and Ovid.
Although the works of J. W. Waterhouse are admired by millions of people worldwide, the general public actually knows relatively little about the man himself and his artistic production. Waterhouses painterly manner distinguishes him from his truly Pre-Raphaelite forerunners. Waterhouse discovered the work of the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais and Ophelia (1851-1852) in particular in 1886. It was also during this same period that he was influenced by the spontaneity of newer French art through the work of English artists like William Logsdail, Frank Bramley and the Newlyn and Primrose Hill schools. The twentieth-century scholars who rediscovered the Pre-Raphaelites often marginalized Waterhouse for such seemingly contradictory tendencies, yet it is these which have endeared him to viewers today. The exhibition will place his most renowned works in the context of his whole career to illustrate why Waterhouse can be regarded as one of the most important artists of classical and romantic tradition.
The artist was born in Rome to British parents, but the family returned to London five years later. Even at a very young age, Waterhouse assisted in the studio of his father, where he developed his interest in painting, sculpture and classical antiquity. He was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1870, and gradually began to make a name for himself with strikingly original and melancholy pictures inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. His richly coloured, emotionally charged images of beautiful women brought him renown throughout the British Empire and at the World Exhibitions of the 1890s and 1900s.