Lot 27
  • 27

John William Waterhouse, R.A., R.I.

600,000 - 800,000 USD
1,505,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • John William Waterhouse, R.A., R.I.
  • Fair Rosamund
  • signed  J.W. Waterhouse and dated 1916 (lower right); further signed and inscribed on a label on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Probably, Burlington House, London, 1917
Collection of William Hasketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme
Sale: Christie's, London, March 25, 1988, lot 124, illustrated
Private Collection, United States (acquired at the above sale)


London, Royal Academy, 1917, no. 63


Anthony Hobson, J.W. Waterhouse, London, 1980, p. 192, no. 217, illustrated
Antony Hobson,  J. W. Waterhouse, London , 1989, p. 116, illustrated p. 126, no. 94
Peter Trippi, J.W. Waterhouse, London, 2002, pp. 222-5, 226, 232, illustrated p. 225, no. 203
Elizabeth Prettejohn, Peter Trippi, Robert Upstone and Patty Wageman, J. W. Waterhouse, The Modern Pre-Raphaelite, exh. cat., Groninger Museum, Royal Academy of Arts, London, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2008-2010, p. 190

Catalogue Note

Like many of the early Pre-Raphaelites who came before him, John William Waterhouse found inspiration in the romantic narratives of the Middle-Ages. While based loosely on verifiable facts, the legend of Rosamund and Queen Eleanor is likely as much of a fairy tale as it is an accurate account, but nonetheless its violence and eroticism provided a compelling subject for many Victorian painters including Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Frederick Sandys and Arthur Hughes, as well as writers Alfred Tennyson and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

At the age of fifteen, Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII, heir to the French throne. She presided over one of the most joyful courts in Europe, filled with troubadours, poets and romantic adventures. Sadly, when she could not bear her husband a son, their marriage was annulled and she married Henry II, Duke of Normandy and future king of England (ruling from 1154-89). For Eleanor, her years in England did not hold the gaiety of her time in France or as they did for her husband and his many mistresses. In Waterhouse’s depiction of the tale, he depicts the moment in which Queen Eleanor penetrates the labyrinthine castle that Henry built for his mistress Rosamund, intent upon killing her rival. The queen holds a strand of the very thread which Rosamund uses in her weaving, depicting three riders approaching a castle, which she used to guide her through the maze and to her victim. As Peter Trippi describes the scene: “Rosamond pauses to watch for her lover, unaware that her life will be cut like the thread that betrays her. Her namesake flower winds precariously along the window, symbolizing the love that offends the homely queen, glimpsed through the curtains ominously decorated with sword-brandishing riders. The threat Rosamond poses to Eleanor is reinforced by her little crown. Although a concubine, Rosamond holds the kneeling position and clasped hands of sainthood, converting this sene into a morbid variant of the Annunciation; she was buried at a nunnery and venerated as a martyr to Eleanor’s hatred” (Trippi, p. 224).

Fair Rosamund was once held in the collection of William Hesketh Lever, the millionaire soap manufacturer and founder of the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight (in memory of his late wife). Lever had built a legendary art collection of more than 20,000 objects, including important examples of eighteenth and nineteenth Century British artists, works by members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and furniture and decorative arts. Lever vetted every acquisition personally and Fair Rosamund could be seen hanging prominently in the gallery at “The Hill”, Lever’s Queen Anne style red-brick mansion overlooking Hampstead Heath (fig. 1), which still stands today.