Myth and Romance : The Art of J. W. Waterhouse, Paperback

Myth and Romance : The Art of J. W. Waterhouse Paperback

Illustrated by J. W. Waterhouse

Part of the Miniature Editions series

2.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Produced in a pocket-sized, jacketed paperback format, Phaidon's Miniature Editions make ideal gifts and desirable possessions.

Each book features a wealth of finely reproduced colour images.

This synopsis of the paintings of J W Waterhouse reveals, with eloquence, the unfolding dimensions of his instantly recognizable imagery.

His depictions of women in Romantic settings in part subtly reflect the troubled relations between the sexes in Victorian England.




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I have long enjoyed the art of John William Waterhouse, a Neo-Classic painter who is often classified as a Pre-Raphaelite because of his style and the themes he chose. A prolific artist he produced over 200 paintings that depicted mostly beautiful, idealized women from classical mythology, historical and literary sources such as the classic English poets Keats and Tennyson. I ordered this book, sight unseen, because I wanted a source that I could enjoy at my leisure in my own home that included most of Waterhouse's better known works. At the time, there was little available in the catalogs and nothing in the stacks at the local book shops, so I decided to take pot luck and order this book, not realizing it was so small. This art book measures only 4 x 4 3/4" and that is its chief downfall though its composition is also a problem. It is a small white paperback book with a colored dust jacket depicting a detail from Waterhouse's famous 1896 painting, Hylas and the Nymphs. It contains one brief page, six or seven sentences, of biographical material on Waterhouse. It is composed mainly of colored plates of 36 of Waterhouse's better known works and several more plates showing small details from those works. There are literary excerpts next to a few of the plates but there does not appear to be any rhyme or reason for the selection of the plates that are so honored. The printing is clear enough and the inks used in the printing are as true and faithful to the originals as can be expected. I think this is a poorly conceived book in that it offers a subject that must be appreciated visually in a format that is not conducive to visual appreciation since it is just too small to see clearly. Many of the prints are also displayed as a double page spread which places the large crease of the binding squarely down the middle of the artwork. There is very little to be found here that will aid in the appreciation of J.W. Waterhouse's art, neither commentary on the paintings nor suitable presentation of the works themselves. The paintings are often cropped so they are not useful as a detail study or as a true look at the intended finished piece. They are a sampler of sorts and one that is ultimately unsatisfactory. The works are not organized in any fashion but seem to appear quite randomly. They are not grouped by subject, date, method or detail. Apart from the literary excerpts there is no other text until the very back of the book where there is found the one really good aspect of this book. It contains a section called Classic and Literary Sources that gives a few pages of information about the various characters from literature and mythology that are the subjects of the paintings. It provides a few details about the stories from which these characters originate. I found this enormously helpful in appreciating the works of Waterhouse, although unfortunately, I needed to take this helpful information and apply it to better presented plates in other sources. I do wish that more art books would include this type of helpful text. The List of Plates, also at the back of the book, thankfully provides the dimensions of the originals as well as the medium and their current locations. Many of these wonderful paintings are scattered throughout England at various museums and galleries and the List of Plates is helpful in ascertaining where to begin one's search. I urge you to look elsewhere if you want a book that will provide you with a clear window into Waterhouse's romantic world, one where you can easily see the splendid details that his work characteristically contains. However, if you are still curious, here is a list of the paintings that are cataloged in this book. Circe Invidiosa Danaides Miranda - The Tempest Ophelia The Lady of Shalott Hylas and the Nymphs Penelope and the Suitors La Belle Dame Sans Merci The Rose Bower The Awakening of Adonis Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden Ariadne The Sorceress The Siren Ulysses and the Sirens St. Cecilia The Magic Circle Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses Echo and Narcissus Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus Flora and the Zephyrs Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod Thisbe Pandora Psyche Opening the Golden Box Hylas with a Nymph Mariana in the South Fair Rosamund Jason and Medea The Lady Clare The Enchanted Garden The Shrine The Mermaid Tristram and Isolde A Tale from the Decameron Listening to My Sweet Pipings I must hasten to remind you that only a precious few of these listed plates contain the entire painting. Almost all of them are cropped or show only the smallest of details such as a head study. By all means, I recommend that you investigate and enjoy John William Waterhouse, but avoid this silly little book.

Review by

Being a miniature edition collecting details from Waterhouse's paintings. It is a pretty little book, but it contains no commentary aside from a glossary of the characters represented herein and the reproductions are not really able to do justice to Waterhouse's preoccupations, so its existence is mostly as a gift book or for miniature book collectors.

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