The exquisite oil painting on canvas displays a woman picking flowers in a field. According to the Greek mythology by Ovid, Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. Narcissus had been promised to live to an old age if only he would not look at his reflection, and so he rejected all women who fell in love with him and would not look at himself. Eventually, he was subdued by Echo, a woman who was deeply hurt by his rejection that she caused the Goddess Nemesis to strike Narcissus that he may look at his reflection in a pool and fall in love with himself. Narcissus then looked at his reflection in the pool till he died.
This story gives origin to the narcissus flower, which grew where Narcissus died. The flower grows almost anywhere but prefers well-drained soil with a sunny or light shade environment. The masterpiece of oil on canvas is set in a beautiful wooded landscape, seemingly with a stream and rocky edges. Wildflowers grow there too, and a young lady is bent picking them. Her countenance is downcast in the flowers. In her other hand, she holds a bunch of already picked flowers. She is dressed in a red dress, perhaps to symbolize love or a burning passion. The flowers she is picking are the narcissus flowers. Waterhouse was always keen to use colours, patterns, and simple objects for symbols of the old mythologies. The Narcissus would be no different. This wonderful work of art brings out his genius with the oils on canvas as he seemingly brings every aspect to life as rich in meaning.
Waterhouse was much influenced and inspired by Greek Mythology and works by Homer, Ovid, Shakespeare, and Keats, among other famous writers and poets from the time. His most common theme from these sources was femme fatale, the woman who ensnares a man. Most of Waterhouse's subjects were women from Greek Mythology, historical or literary texts. Often, he used live models, family, and friends to be his subjects, creating a great mix of the old and new as he used symbolism from the mythologies around current English settings. Waterhouse's Narcissus artwork is currently on show in several major British art galleries. The Royal Academy of Art held a major exhibition of his work in 2009.