Monday, February 01, 2010

J. W. Waterhouse

Last week we went to the J.W. Waterhouse exhibit, at the Musee des Beaux Arts here in Montreal – a huge, travelling retrospective that has done much to revive his work in the public eye.  I highly recommend this show, which runs till the end of this week. In all, we spent about two and a half hours enjoying the work of this British 19th C. master.

The renewed fascination with this work suggests something afoot in the zeitgeist, a return of interest in pictorial representation and in artistic interpretations of our mythological and religious past. It also, I daresay, partakes of the decadence of our own peculiar time.  All those thinly clad nymphs and cherubs rendered by Waterhouse and others served as softcore porn for a certain class of wealthy, repressed Victorian gentlemen. (The above doesn't quite serve as an example; you would have to go to the show to see what I mean!) His repetitive use of one, idealized model -- whose svelte figure conforms more closely to today's standards of beauty than say the women of Rubens or Renoir -- served as both his signature and to trivialize him. Nevertheless, paintings like The Lady of Shalott, above, are luminous masterpieces.

One can see why the post-WWI avant guarde -- a movement I very much appreciate, actually -- were so strenuous in their denunciations of this kind of work: would hate break the news to them today, but most of their own work doesn’t hold a candle to it.

For those who want to view and learn more about Waterhouse's art, check out this highly informative virtual tour put on by the curator.

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