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Artists and Beauty: The Opinion of Eminent Painters

The sole record of John William Waterhouse's model selection preference is found in a 1907 article, where he chose an artist's model from a set of photos.

Artists and Beauty: The Opinion of Eminent Painters


Illustrations from Photographs by Lafayette, Ltd, 179 New Bond Street, London

Illustrations from Photographs by Lafayette, Ltd, 179 New Bond Street, London
Published in The Strand magazine, March 1908

The beauty of women appeals to all men, but not to all men alike; and artists, particularly those who have devoted themselves to the limning of the human figure, are supposed to have strongly pronounced preferences of their own. With a view of putting these preferences to the test, we have submitted a selection of beautiful women of to-day to a number of representative figure painters. The result is indicated in the following pages.

One of these photographs, which we have numbered “3”, is awarded the palm by no fewer than five artists, these being Sir Luke Files, R.A., Mr. J.W. Waterhouse, R.A., Mr. Arthur Hacker, A.R.A, the Hon John Colllier, and Mr. Byam Shaw. The one point on which all these authorities agreed was the beauty of the lady's eyes.

Waterhouse selects this model as his preference

"The lady of my preference, indeed, reminds me very much of one of my models." - John William Waterhouse

If I had to select one of these ladies,” said Mr. Waterhouse, “as a model for painting, I should have no hesitation about my choice. The lady of my preference, indeed, reminds me very much of one of my models. After she had been sitting to me for some time she went on the stage, and succeeding in obtaining fairly important parts, she naturally did not care to resume her former profession, and for some time I have lost sight of her. She sat only for the face. The face, as in this photograph, is so singularly beautiful that I was very sorry to lose the opportunity of painting it, and I have written once or twice lately to the lady's old address but without obtaining a reply.


Models for Famous Pictures

An earlier reference to Waterhouse and his models can be found in the September 1904 edition of Strand Magazine. In a fascinating article about artists's models, "Models for Famous Pictures" by Ronald Graham, Mr. Graham writes:

.... But, as we have already shown, Millais was fond of the fancy or subject-portrait, which, in his later years, at least, became very little idealized, differing in this respect from many of his fellow-painters, such as Rossetti and Burne-Jones. It is well-known that Holman Hunt painted "The Light of the World" from his own features and person in the looking-glass, but he succeeded in idealizing it out of all recognition. The author of "The Golden Stairs", and such painters as Mr JW Waterhouse, R.A. also keep true to their own type of manhood and womanhood however much they may be influenced by the model of the moment.

The Artist's Model song

Everard, George, Ada Jones, and Fred Murray. The Artist's Model. 1906. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-422501/.

The Library of Congress has a recording of a humorous song about the trials of being an artist's model. Recorded in 1906, it can be listened to on their website (Everard, George, Ada Jones, and Fred Murray. The Artist's Model. 1906. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-422501/.)

There was also a play called The Artist's Model which was staged in London and in New York from the 1890s onwards - unclear if it's related to the above song.

A Waterhouse Model Discovered

There has been much speculation into the identity of the models used by the artist John William Waterhouse. Whilst the focus had primarily been upon the female faces and figures that populate his pictures, research that I conducted in 2005 introduced the name of a well-known Victorian male model to feature within Waterhouse’s oeuvre.

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Ethel and Narcissus - a closer look at two of Waterhouse’s models

Late in 2004, whilst looking through John William Waterhouse’s old sketchbooks at the V&A, I discovered the names of several models, recorded by the artist along with details of their addresses.

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Letter to Miss Lloyd

The letter featured here, addressed by John William Waterhouse to a Miss Lloyd, comes from the private collection of Donald J. Kurtz.

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