John William Waterhouse
- John William Waterhouse
- Miranda-The Tempest
- signed J.W. Waterhouse and dated 1916 (lower right)
- oil on canvas
Sale: Sotheby's, London, November 21, 1989, lot 36, illustrated
Private Collection (and sold: Christie's, London, October 25, 1991, lot 31, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1916, no. 258
Anthony Hobson, The Art and Life of J.W. Waterhouse, R.A., 1849-1917, 1980, pp. 137-8, 192, no. 213
Anthony Hobston, J.W. Waterhouse, 1989, pp. 109, 116, illustrated p. 115, pl. 86
Peter Trippi, J.W. Waterhouse, London and New York, 2002, pp. 222, 224, illustrated p. 220-1, no. 200
Elizabeth Prettejohn, Peter Trippi, Robert Upstone and Patty Wageman, J.W. Waterhouse, The Modern Pre-Raphaelite, exh. cat., Groningen, The Netherlands, p. 192
In 1916 Waterhouse submitted three works to the Royal Academy: the group composition A Tale from the Decameron along with two single figure works "I am Half Sick of Shadows," said the Lady of Shalott and Miranda-The Tempest. As the titles suggest, Waterhouse had abandoned classical myths as subjects in favor of medieval and Renaissance narratives, often centering on a woman experiencing a revelation. A conjoining motivation may have been patriotism inspired by the First World War, as many artists returned to themes from England's past, including Arthurian legends and the works of Shakespeare. (Trippi, pp. 216-7).
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's most romantic plays, written late in his career, circa 1611; its original performance a year later coincided with the wedding of Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of England's James I to Frederick, the Elector Palatine, later King of Bohemia. Waterhouse first painted the play's heroine Miranda in 1875. This earlier work depicts the play's titular storm clouds gathering, a ship in miniature on the horizon-line, and the blond maiden, dressed in an Antique costume, seated demurely on a beach rock. While the artist experimented with another classicized study in a drawing of circa 1914-16, in contrast, the present, later composition heightens the dramatic intensity of the play's first act in which "a brave vessel" carrying Miranda's future lover, Ferdinand, is overtaken by violent waves and "dashed to pieces" (Act II;ii, 6;8). With the present work Waterhouse demonstrates the breadth of his skill as Miranda braces herself against the rising storm, her thick, auburn hair and the weighty folds of her fabric gripped by the winds. The pale hand held to her breast seemingly visualizes the moment when Miranda cries "Against my very heart. Poor souls, they perish'd./Had I been any god of power, I would/Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere. It should the good ship so have swallow'd" (Act I:11, 8;12). Miranda is helpless to defend the sailors against the tempest conjured by her magician father Prospero to destroy the ship of his evil bother Antonio, who marooned them on an enchanted island.
As with many of Waterhouse's single-figure pictures of women, Miranda is a legendary, mystical woman withdrawn from the world, her future in peril (though Miranda's tale is one of the rare happy endings for the artist's maidens) (Hobson, J.W. Waterhouse, p. 137). The present work also reflects Waterhouse's fascination with magic, women, and the water recalling A Mermaid and The Siren (1900) (Trippi, p. 121-2). Miranda, her expression hidden from the viewer in three quarter profile, becomes a decorative object of dangerous beauty, her body surrounded by the violent bruised blue waves, the broken bits of Ferdinand's ship's mast suggesting the destructive, transformative power of love. In its imaginative interpretation of its literary source, complex layers of visual and allegorical meaning, and demonstration of a lifetime of artistic achievement, Miranda-The Tempest is considered one of the artist's most accomplished later works. Waterhouse would return to the theme with a smaller scaled version of the present work exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1917 (Prettejohn, p. 192).