John William Waterhouse was classically trained and would have become highly accomplished as a draughtsman from an early age. His drawings mainly consist of pencil and chalk drawings, normally portraits of models for his later oil paintings. In the example of the artwork in front of us here, titled Study for St Eulalia, the artist chooses to make use of ink and watercolour in a method which provides an alternative route to planning for his oil piece. It is relatively rare to come across anything in these mediums from his career, although it is likely that he produced many more, but that they were lost or mislaid in the years since his death. The item was purchased by its present owners, Tate, in 1977 along with a number of other artworks from his career and they can all be viewed by prior appointment for those looking to understand the artist's use of watercolour and ink as a tool for study and preparation.
St Eulalia was a young child, around twelve years old, who was to become a martyr after rejecting the rule of Rome. The drawing, and subsequent painting, display her lifeless body on the floor after her punishment has been brutally delivered. The story goes that she was torn apart with iron hooks before fire was then applied to continue her misery, ultimately killing her. The rule of Rome was notoriously effective through brutality, leading to constant uprisings and unhealthy relationships with the local populations that they ruled over. Those aware of the original tale will notice that Waterhouse uses a good amount of creative freedom in how he depicts this scene, not concerning himself with historical precision to the detriment of the composition itself.
John William Waterhouse would leave behind a charming oeuvre which took inspiration from a variety of sources including Greek mythology as well as more recent British poetry. Both were present in the careers of a number of other British artists in the late 19th century too, such as with the likes of John William Godward and Lawrence Alma Tadema who both produced technically impressive recreations of classical scenes. Waterhouse would then move towards the approach of the Pre-Raphaelites who liked to capture young maidens within themes of innocence and purity. Although arriving too late to be a part of the Brotherhood himself, he worked in a similar style that led to many critics connecting to that famous collection of artists. It has also helped to keep his own reputation in our minds, as many discover his career via the Brotherhood's key figures and then take the opportunity to look deeper into his work, discovering all manner of hidden gems that lurk within the Waterhouse oeuvre, including oil paintings, pencil sketches plus also the use of ink and watercolour as found here.