Articles about J.W. Waterhouse


A Waterhouse Sketch Discovered

By Scott Thomas Buckle

There has been much speculation into the identity of the models used by the artist John William Waterhouse. Whilst the focus up until now has been upon the female faces and figures that populate his pictures, a recently discovered sketch introduces the name of a well-known Victorian male model to Waterhouse's oeuvre. The drawing, an unattributed sketch depicting the head of an old Hussite warrior (or so the label would have us believe) was found by an art dealer in Prague amongst a folio of loose prints and drawings by various artists. The handling of the drawing was close to Waterhouse's style, even if the subject matter was not, and two inscriptions at the top and bottom of the sheet would prove to be vital clues in unravelling the mystery behind the hurried little drawing.

John William Waterhouse: Head of an old warrior

John William Waterhouse
Head of an old warrior
Pencil on paper, Private Collection

The lower inscription might have misled previous owners of the drawing that it was the signature of the artist. I recognized that the name, albeit misspelled, was that of the celebrated model Colarossi, an Italian who had settled in London in the middle of the 19th Century and posed for some of the greatest Victorian artists. Angelo Colarossi was born in Italy in 1839, but soon found himself part of a community of fellow countrymen whose classical looks made them sought-after models for leading British artists of the day. Amongst the better known Italian models working in London were Gaetano Meo, who modelled for Simeon Solomon, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Alma Tadema and Lord Leighton as well as becoming a studio assistant to Sir William Blake Richmond; Alessandro di Marco whose athletic build was favoured by Blake Richmond and Burne-Jones; and Domenico Mancini who is known to have posed for Watts, Blake Richmond, Alma Tadema, Sargent, Draper and Holman Hunt.

...his favourite Italian model, a man of splendid physique... Leighton's Athlete wrestling with a python 
An Athlete wrestling with a Python, 1877
An engraving by W. Biscombe Gardner of Lord Leighton's bronze.
Reproduced in The Magazine of Art, 1878.

Colarossi, however, seems to have been even more in demand. He was the model for Lord Leighton's bronze An Athlete Wrestling with a Python and led the artist to refer to him as 'his favourite Italian model, a man of splendid physique'. Edwin Austin Abbey introduced the model to John Singer Sargent who used him for some of the figures in his murals in the Boston Library, (Colarossi's name and West London address are inscribed upon a sheet of studies of muscular limbs by Sargent in the Corcoran Gallery of Art.) Sir John Everett Millais depicted him as the old Genoese sailor in his 1870 painting of The Boyhood of Raleigh in the Tate Collection. He is also known to have sat to Burne-Jones, George Frederic Watts, Frederick Sandys, William Hamo Thornycroft, Francis Davis Millet, Herbert James Draper and George Howard, the Ninth Earl of Carlisle. For a long time it was thought that Colarossi featured as the model for an 1867 photograph by Mrs Cameron entitled Iago, Study from an Italian but new evidence in a recently published article in the British Art Journal suggests that Alessandro di Marco was in fact the model for the photograph.

Colarossi's son, also named Angelo, was studio boy to the sculptor Alfred Gilbert and model for his most famous statue Eros (1891) in Piccadilly Circus. Gilbert studied alongside Waterhouse at the Academy schools and his statue of An Offering to Hymen exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886 appears to have influenced Waterhouse's Circe Invidiosa of six years later. Whether the younger Colarossi ever posed for Waterhouse remains to be investigated – the boy apparently never grew beyond five feet tall – so he could conceivably be the model for one of the youths that feature in Waterhouse's paintings of the early 1890s. Angelo Sr and another son, Lorenzo, posed for Leighton's monumental canvas And the sea gave up the dead which were in it (Tate Collection). Isabel McAllister in her 1929 biography of Gilbert mentions that young Angelo was also nephew to the great Colarossi who made such an impact with his Paris academy. Angelo senior was brother of Filippo Colarossi, manager of the famous Académie Colarossi, whose students included Camille Claudel, Amedeo Modigliani and Alphonse Mucha. As well as modelling for Victorian artists in Britain, Colarossi posed for Jean-Léon Gérôme, the French artist whom Waterhouse is known to have admired, as well as for Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who, like Gerôme, shared Colarossi's taste in later life, for large moustaches.

As there is no published literature linking Waterhouse directly to the Colarossi family, I decided to investigate further, by examining some of the artist's sketchbooks at the V&A. These were donated by Waterhouse's great nephew, John Physick, who used to work at the museum. One of the sketchbooks (E.1111-1963) is of identical size to the Colarossi drawing and many of the sketches within it are so vigorously worked that off-prints of the most heavily defined areas of pencil appear upon the opposing pages. This explains the mysterious inscription at the top of the Colarossi drawing – the words 'EX LIBRIS' written in reverse - no doubt imprinted from another page inscribed in heavy pencil. Peter Trippi illustrates a comparative drawing from this sketchbook in his 2002 Waterhouse monograph (pl. 211) which depicts an old man kneeling before an angel.

John William Waterhouse
Old Man Before An Angel
c.1901-16, pencil on paper
20.9 x 13.6 cm (8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in)
Sketchbook E.1111-1963, p.59
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The same sketchbook also contains a preparatory sketch for Echo and Narcissus inscribed with the names and addresses of two models. The first, 'Beresford', of '19 St Olaf's Road, Fulham', can be found in the 1901 Census lists as 'Henry Beresford', a 21 year old whose profession is given as 'Artist's Model'.

John William Waterhouse
The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius (detail), 1883

John William Waterhouse
Ulysses and the Sirens (detail), 1891

Simon Toll confirms the identification of the model for Narcissus in his Herbert Draper monograph, but gives no source for the information. He also mentions that Harry Beresford was the model for Draper's The Youth of Ulysses', a painting which features another Waterhouse model Mary Lloyd. The second name beside the Echo and Narcissus sketch in the V&A sketchbook (and seemingly unrecorded in any published literature on Waterhouse) is a 'Miss Bantock'. Her address in Westville Road, Shepherds Bush is located one street away from that of Colarossi's, (as inscribed upon the aforementioned Sargent drawing), suggesting that the Italian may have been in some way instrumental in arranging her sitting to Waterhouse for the figure of Echo. Another of the V&A sketchbooks (E1109-1963) gives the name and address of 'Miss Kate Double', also of Shepherds Bush, who is known to have posed for Whistler. It is in this sketchbook that the name 'A Colarossi' is inscribed by the artist, finally confirming a definite connection between Waterhouse and the Italian model. Waterhouse also gives the model's address – '14 Masbro Road, Kensington' – a few minutes away from the studios of Leighton, Watts and the other artists that were part of the Holland Park colony.

It is not known exactly how Waterhouse was first introduced to Colarossi – the artist shared the model Mary Lloyd with Leighton, Draper and others so it is quite likely that he met other models by recommendation of fellow artists or from direct contact if they posed at the life classes at the Royal Academy schools. At present there is no known painting by Waterhouse that appears to relate to the sketch of Colarossi's head, however there are two studies of a moustached man wearing a Germanic helmet amongst the V&A sketchbooks which may be in some way connected to the present drawing. The sketchbook which contains Colarossi's name and address appears to date from early on in Waterhouse's career, as most of the sketches contained within are related to themes and objects of Roman antiquity. One may assume then that Colarossi would have posed for Waterhouse during his 'classical' period, and this seems to be borne out by his appearance in the background of the 1883 painting The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide).

In later years, Colarossi appears to have spent a considerable stint as a galley slave aboard various vessels in Draper's paintings, becoming a little typecast by his appearance, so one wonders whether he may have also rowed for Waterhouse in his Ulysses and the Sirens of 1891? Sir Frank Dicksee, another of Waterhouse's fellow Academy students, produced a painting in 1893 called A Viking's Funeral (Manchester City Art Galleries), the central figure of which bears some similarity to the Colarossi drawing and may have been an influence. A photograph of Colarossi in later life was illustrated in an article in Picture Post published posthumously in 1947, showing the same moustache and distinctive features that appear in the Waterhouse sketch. Colarossi had died back in 1916, a year before Waterhouse's own death – both men probably quite aware by then that the art movement that they were part of was already becoming a thing of the past.

Photograph of Angelo Colarossi
(Italian, 1839-1916)

In my researches into the Colarossi drawing I had inadvertently lifted the lid of a Pandora's box containing a whole host of other Waterhouse models. Unlike Angelo Colarossi, however, most of them will probably remain in obscurity until someone has the time, energy and inclination to delve further into their lives.




I would like to thank Colin Ford CBE for all of his help with this article and for allowing me to plunder extensively from his invaluable researches into Angelo Colarossi and his family. Thanks also to Arden Phair for clarifying a few details and for sharing his findings on Angelo Sr and other Italian models. 

Select Bibliography

Scott Thomas Buckle - Is this the face of Alessandro di Marco? The forgotten features of a well-known Italian model, The British Art Journal, Volume XIII No.2, Autumn 2012

Martin Chisholm – The Man who was Eros, Picture Post, June 28, 1947

Caroline Dakers – The Holland Park Circle – Artists and Victorian Society, Yale 1999

Richard Dorment – Alfred Gilbert, Yale 1985

Richard Dorment – Alfred Gilbert, Sculptor and Goldsmith, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1986

Colin Ford – 'Mountain Nymph and 'Damnèd Villain', History of Photography, Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 2003

Anthony Hobson - The Art and Life of JW Waterhouse RA 1849-1917, London 1980

Jill Berk Jiminez – Dictionary of Artists' Models, London/Chicago 2001

Isabel McAllister – Alfred Gilbert, London 1929

Edward J. Nygren – John Singer Sargent Drawings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution 1993

Leonée & Richard Ormond – Lord Leighton, London 1975

Martin Postle & William Vaughan – The Artist's Model from Etty to Spencer, London 1999

Benedict Read – Leighton as a Sculptor, Lord Leighton and Leighton House – A Centenary Celebration, Apollo Magazine 1996

Simon Reynolds – William Blake Richmond – An Artist's Life 1842-1921, Norwich 1995

Mrs A.M.W.Stirling – The Richmond Papers, London 1926

Simon Toll – Herbert Draper 1863-1920 A Life Study, Antique Collectors Club 2003

Peter Trippi - J. W. Waterhouse, London 2002

Various Authors – Victorian High Renaissance – Minneapolis Institute of Arts 1979

David M. Wilson – Vikings and Gods in European Art – Moesgård Museum 1997

© StB January 2005 (last updated August 2013)

First published on January 1, 2005.
Last updated on August 15, 2013.

<< Browse more member Articles
<< Browse all Articles