John William Waterhouse concluded the captivating oil painting entitled My Sweet Rose, also known as The Soul of the Rose, in 1908 during the height of his career. As a painter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the artist valued Arthurian legends and mythological themes but going against some implied values of the Academies – like the limiting interpretation of the Classic subjects and the dark color palettes. Waterhouse began his career studying at the Royal Academy of London but was drawn to the art of the Pre-Raphaelites – a group which formed the year he was born. Although he was bringing the movement into the next century, Waterhouse preserved the original values of the group.
At first glance, the painting The Soul of the Rose seems to simply portray a woman enjoying her garden, but it is much more. Waterhouse would often depict strong women of the Victorian era in his work. During this time, the role of women in society was becoming much more important than before, especially in the political realm. Like in many of his paintings, this woman seems to be trapped by an external force – in this case, a brick wall that stands in front of her. During his lifetime, Waterhouse had contact with many powerful women with high public profiles, and this would often reflect in his art, as he depicted restrained female figures.
Waterhouse joins a sense of longing, sensuality, and power in The Soul of the Rose. A woman with red-brown hair is facing to the left and holding a pink rose near her face. Her expression is of pure pleasure as she experiences the sweet scent of nature while leaning her left hand on the bricks. She features light skin, blushing cheeks, delicate hands, and a long sensual neck. Many full rose blossoms are growing from the rose bush, which grows up the brick wall. The painter also depicted some decorative roof tiles on top of the wall, which, along with her hair, brings warmer pigments to the painting. Waterhouse portrays the model wearing a long blue and yellow patterned robe, that gives an exotic touch to the atmosphere and making the color palette richer. The background shows some tall, dark green trees, as well as a white house in the distance.
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