Tag Archives: Herbert James Spencer

Mythology on Canvas (Part 1)

The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse
The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse

For my next several posts, I will discuss my impressions of individual paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This group includes artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Herbert James Spencer, John William Waterhouse, and Evelyn DeMorgan. These individuals are often noted for their realism, and they have sometimes been criticized for this and for their practice of working off of photographs taken in their studios. This was explained to me by Michael Greenholt, an animator for DisneyToon Studios.

What can be said about these painters? They were predominantly men, enjoyed portraying scenes from mythology, and evidently also enjoyed painting naked (or nearly naked) women, which was at least sometimes in keeping with the myths they portrayed. The realism for which they are criticized also made mythology more tangible. In my opinion, the composition of their paintings is unusual and visually arresting. What often draws my attention is that which is implied but not shown.

 Next week, I will begin examining specific examples of their work.