In a single glance the eye sweeps violently around Waterhouse’s Boreas, tossed by the waves of painted curving strokes, surrendering to mystical winds of artistic genius. Combining the Impressionist styles of his contemporaries with the work of the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Waterhouse’s works Boreas, A Naiad, Pandora, and Ophelia echoed artistic subjects classical in nature and elegant in symmetrical perfection and composition. Waterhouse journeyed beyond Greek mythology, illustrating British’s own legends. Lady of Shalott, based on the poem by Tennyson of the same name, perhaps remains one of his most recognizable pieces and a favorite reproduction of both artists and art lovers. Like Boreas the subject is female, beautiful, mystical, and surrounded by intricately detailed natural beauty in the classical style of the Pre-Raphaelites. Boreas, chief of the Greek wind gods, is exemplified in Waterhouse’s painting by his use of a cool palette, sweeping motion, and subtle use of light and shadow. Just as the Greek god devoured the young Athenian princess Oreithyia in a cloud, sweeping brushstrokes, gray and cold like the wind, envelop the young maiden in Boreas.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a chief influence on the young Waterhouse, held deeply to the importance of creating detailed “good” art that was impeccable in artistic attention to nature. Waterhouse followed their maxims in Boreas. The use of a muted cool palette clearly inspired by blues and grays of weather, wind, and water, contrast sharply with the woman’s face and pure pale arm. Almost imperceptible at first, the simple yellow flower behind her ear is swallowed by the dark void of her hair and eclipsed by the lines of her scarf. Such details may be missed in a digital reproduction but is obvious when viewing the actual work. Notice how the lines of her fingers continue the circular motion of her winding scarf, and in the center of this maelstrom is resigned beauty, and classical simplicity. The focal imagery is the circle created around the maiden’s nearly perfect face. John William Waterhouse’s Boreas succeeds in its picturesque depiction of a woman engulfed in the inevitability of wind, winter, and perhaps a mythological god from a forgotten era.
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