John William Waterhouse, RA, RI (British, 1849-1917)
An Eastern interior with a seated girl signed 'JWWaterhouse/1886' (lower right) oil on board 26 x 18cm (10 1/4 x 7 1/16in).
Provenance: A gift from the artist to William Logsdail (1859-1944), thence by descent.
Painted in 1886, the present lot was a gift from Waterhouse to his close friend William Logsdail. The two formed a close friendship in the 1880s, when both artists worked at the spacious Primrose Hill Studios. Waterhouses first studio there was no. 3, moving to no. 6 in 1888. Logsdail worked at the studios in 1882, returning there from 1887-92, where he occupied no.4. The convivial, community feel of the studios provided an excellent environment for many artists. Logsdail used Waterhouse as a model for several of his most ambitious London scenes, with Waterhouse appearing as one of the seated figures on the carriage in The Bank and Royal Exchange (1887), worked up from a fluid sketch of the artist, painted circa 1886.
1886 was an important year for British art, with the establishment of the New English Art Club, as a forum for a new generation of artists to exhibit works considered too modern in technique to be appropriate Royal Academy material. It was also an important year for Waterhouse. Having been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy the previous year, he was therefore eligible to attend the Academys opening banquet, which gave him new access to prospective patrons and purchasers. His first exhibit as an ARA, The Magic Circle, was given the great honour of being purchased by the Chantrey Bequest. During this year, Waterhouse also exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery, where his work hung alongside paintings by such luminaries as Alma-Tadema, Burne-Jones and Poynter.
Ironcially, Waterhouses acceptance into the Academic elite was nearly hindered by his sympathy towards the painting techniques of the NEAC painters, such as his close friend Frank Bramley. A number of the Chantrey committee, including the arch Academic Poynter, had voted against the purchase of The Magic Circle, no doubt un-nerved by the paintings use of foreign techniques. As Robert Upstone observes: Waterhouse had painted The Magic Circle in an assimilated version of a French naturalist technique: the landscape elements show evidence of square-brushing...it was a technique much reviled by British art schools who prized precision of draughtsmanship over all else1. These techniques were proving popular with artists returning from the academies of Continental Europe, such as the Antwerp Academy, which both Logsdail and Bramley attended. While Bramley joined the artistic exodus to Newlyn, Waterhouse continued to draw his subjects from folklore and mythology, but his technique shows the influence of the Continental ateliers.
Waterhouse shared Logsdails fascination with Venice, and worked there in summer of 1886. As Peter Trippi comments, during this period Waterhouse uses the striped garments of modern Venetians as props for a number of paintings, Venetian or otherwise, including Consulting the Oracle (1884) and A Flower Market (1886)2. In the present lot, perhaps even painted while the artist was in Venice, we see the artist again using a striped costume to adorn his model. The other props in the composition show a Moorish influence, with rugs, cushions and an inlaid table on which the model rests her arm. An interesting compositional comparison can be drawn with Cleopatra (1888), in which the model sits, her right hand bent at the elbow and resting on her thigh, her left hand resting and supported.
Notes: 1Prettejohn, Trippi et al, J.W.Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite,exhibition cat, p.106 (note by Robert Upstone). 2Peter Trippi, J.W.Waterhouse, (Phaidon 2002), p.73.