Waterhouse finished this painting in 1902 and immediately put it on display in the Royal Academy, as with most of his new work at this time. It sat alongside another of his works, titled The Missal. The Crystal Ball is consistent with the artist's style, which remained consistent over many decades.
The model peers into the ball, leaving the viewer to imagine what she might be seeing and thinking at that point. Her appearance suggests it is pure and gentle, though the skull that sits at the back of the scene offers a more sinister touch of symbolism. A previous owner had taken a dislike to this addition and actually painted over it, though a recent restoration has thankfully returned the painting back to its original composition.
It is the touches of architecture at the back of the room that give the painting an impression of the Renaissance, with a style differing from the Gothic approach that was found in many paintings at this time. The somewhat friendlier construction of vertical and horizontal lines of the Italian papal states of centuries before feels more suited to Waterhouse's artistic style.
Common elements found in this work that persist across the artist's career include the elegant dress which hangs from the slim brunette, with the model likely to have been used in several other portraits. It is also possible that Waterhouse may have re-positioned her several times before arriving upon this preferred stance.