Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Waterhouse’s Mariana in the South

Mariana in the South, John William Waterhouse

Mariana in the South (details), John William Waterhouse

Mariana in the South, John William Waterhouse; oil on canvas, roughly 45 x 29 inches (114 x 74 cm); link is to Wikimedia Commons, original is in a private collection.

John William Waterhouse — who is often described as a Pre-Raphaelite painter, but might be more accurately, if awkwardly, classified as a Post Pre-Raphaelite — depicts a scene from the poem “Mariana” by Alfred Tennyson.

The Pre-Raphaelites and others in their circle often took scenes from literature as their subjects. This one, showing a despondent Mariana wishing for the return of a lover who has rejected her affection, can be contrasted with this interpretation of Mariana from Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais.

On the surface, Waterhouse appears to share the Pre-Raphaelites’ fascination with truth to the appearance of nature, but on closer inspection, his handling is broader and more painterly.

Here, he makes a striking contrast in the brighter values of the young woman’s face, hands and gown with the dimness of the hall behind her, set off with the light through the door at its end. This effect is carried back to the reflection of the door’s window in the upper part of the mirror.

In a closer look, the splashes of high-chroma red in her lips and in the flower in her bodice as seen in the mirror capture our eye. Again, there is an echo of this, a slight indication of both her red lips and an edge of the flower can be seen in the main figure. There is also a touch of red in the letter on the floor by her knees.

Waterhouse has not taken the easy way out in representing the perspective of the tiles the hall, turning them at an angle oblique to that of the walls of the hall.