Early in his career John Waterhouse had painted Graeco-Roman subjects in the manner of Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Before developing a passion for the romantic Pre-Raphaelite style, particularly the Arthurian legends popularised by poets such as Lord Alfred Tennyson.

Lamia was inspired by John Keats’s celebrated poem of 1820. Set in the wild hills of ancient Greece during an ‘evening dim at moth time’, the poem speaks of a young charioteer who hearing a soft voice calling – ‘a maid more beautiful than [any] ever with twisted braid’ – falls inextricably in love with her. He is unaware that this vision is in reality a monstrous half-serpent, who metamorphoses into a woman’s form to prey on young men.

The intensity of the young knight’s gaze draws the viewer into Waterhouse’s painting, Lamia kneels below him, one hand on his and the other resting on his armplate, the only visual clue to her nature captured in the glimmering moulted snake-skin draped about her, its peacock tinges drawn from Keat’s description.

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  • Title: Lamia
  • Creator: John Waterhouse
  • Date Created: 1849/1917
  • Physical Dimensions: w902 x h1447 mm (Without frame)
  • Artist biography: John William Waterhouse was born in 1849. He was an English painter who worked in the Pre-Raphaelite style long after the breakup of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He also borrowed stylistic influences from the Impressionists, and his artworks were known for their depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend. Waterhouse died in 1917.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Moss Davis, 1930, http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/terms-of-use
  • External Link: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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