Articles about J.W. Waterhouse


Skull emerges from behind the curtains

One of the frequently asked questions posed by visitors to this website is how to find a print of The Crystal Ball with its skull intact. Most reproductions of this painting do not include the skull which appears in front of the curtain. The reason for this omission is that the photograph still used by the majority of printers comes from one taken by Christie's before their Victorian art expert noticed a discrepancy. An article in The Times explains:

"Art detective work has uncovered the hidden secret of a £350,000 painting after it was "doctored" in the early 1950s. "The Crystal Ball" by John William Waterhouse RA (1849-1917) shows a  young model in a red dress gazing into the ball, apparently weaving a spell with the aid of a book and a skull (John Shaw writes).

It was shown
alongside a more spiritual picture by the artist at the Royal Academy in 1902. The study later entered the Pyman collection and eventually hung in the dining room at Glenborrodale Castle, Highland.

The painting was sold with the castle when the property changed hands in 1952-3. But the new owner did not like the skull and had it covered by curtains. The picture was later sold and it will be auctioned again at Christie's, London, on Friday. It came into the auction room in its amended state.

But when Martin Beisly, head of the Victorian picture department, and his team began to research its background they came across a photograph of the original version in The Art Journal, 1909. An X-ray of the picture showed the skull still there.

A pigment analysis demonstrated that the original surface was still protected with a layer of varnish which meant the addition could be removed safely. The picture would clean up "quite beautifully", Mr Beisly said."

'The Crystal Ball' by John William Waterhouse

Skull emerges from behind the curtains

<< Browse Articles