Figurative portraits were key to most of his paintings and in line with that, most of his drawings were studies for later oil pieces. The human body is highly complex and requires years of practice in order to master its depiction within art and Waterhouse understood this perfectly. A quick browse through his drawings below will uncover countless elegant models who pose for his charming Pre-Raphaelite style.
As with most portrait painters, Waterhouse would have several favourite models that he would choose to use in most cases and some would need to be easily accessible for his series of drawings which would not take as long to complete. Something that may strike you about the drawings in this section is how detailed they are, considering most were figurative sketches. Other artists may have simply focused on one specific element of a face or body, but Waterhouse's drawings serve as genuine, completed artworks in their own right.
It is interesting to compare the work of the artist in this medium, with say, the drawings of Raphael and other Renaissance masters. They would frequently leave parts of a portrait incomplete, so long as the area which was intended to be the real focus had been finished. Many of these artworks would then be sent around their studios so that assistants could follow in a similar style. The same can be said of Durer and Titian.
Waterhouse is well represented within this medium in terms of surviving works, with 13 sketchbooks still in existence as well as hundreds of loose drawings floating around private collections. By the time of the Pre-Raphaelites drawing was considered very much an art form by itself, rather than as a preparatory skill for sculpture or painting. That meant there was more of an intention to look after them and also provide better documentation than had been seen in the Renaissance, for example.
A studio sale in 1926 at Christie's in London was the moment that the Waterhouse family relinquished most of their collection of drawings, providing us with valuable information from the auction listings. Such establishments have always provided documentation at the time of any auction for the benefit of it's bidders but these also help art historians of later generations. Esther Waterhouse would group many drawings together as single lots due to the shere number of artworks that was being auctioned off. In other cases they were single sketchbooks, though all held valuable round stamps as a symbol of authenticity and the auction house then numbered them separately.
Waterhouse developed a style of depicting young women which persisted throughout his career and makes his drawings instantly recognisable as his own. In some senses his way to differentiate one subject from another would be through colour within his paintings. The route to forming an individualistic style to capturing a pure-like female aesthetic was also completed by several other Pre-Raphaelite artists too. Examples of this can be found in Millais drawings plus those of Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Burne-Jones.
Much research has been carried out to try to identify the models used by Waterhouse within his work, but most remain a mystery. In some cases he would make notes of their names and addresses but it can be hard to discover much more about them from such a long time ago. His choices were always quintessentially English women, with long hair, subtle features and a slim but not skinny frame. They would appear healthy and alluring, whilst also classically beautiful.