John William Waterhouse‘s A Mermaid, painted in 1900, is an imagined reproduction of the mythical figure, rendered in an elegant and monumental style by the renowned British painter. At the time of painting Waterhouse was long established as one of the great artists of his age. As a young man Waterhouse entered the Royal Academy Schools and at the close of his studies he was already being exhibited at the institution’s prestigious annual Summer Exhibition. Beginning first as a painter in the neo-classical style, and attempting to produce true-to-life reproductions of the ancient world through a close attention to archaeological artefacts, Waterhouse began to portray the Classical past through the lens of the everyday.
By 1900, aged 51, Waterhouse had established a fervent interest in magic and the occult, particularly in the guise of femme fatales - a recurring theme throughout his life. Having gradually shunned his taste for narrative paintings towards the close of the century, Waterhouse began to focus predominantly on figurative female subjects, culminating in canvases of such majesty as A Mermaid.
Greatly influenced by the surfaces and textures of the Pre-Raphaelite style, Waterhouse fused the lingering Symbolism of the late nineteenth century with the French naturalistic style.
After decades of prestige in the Academy circles, Waterhouse was elected to the status of Royal Academician, submitting A Mermaid to the Royal Academy as his diploma work. The canvas depicts a figurative reproduction of the mythic creature, reflecting the artist’s continued taste for mythological or legendary figures. Sharing the Pre-Raphaelites’ eye for a dreamy, Romantic style, Waterhouse was greatly inspired by world literature, particularly of the Western tradition. Having been raised in Italy, the artist was brought up in the opulent surroundings of a crumbling, classical Italy, which he utilized to construct his haunting, sensual worlds which seem to be imbued with both a child-like innocence and an aggressive sexuality.
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